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Waiting Well When It’s Hard to See

Waiting Well When It’s Hard to See

Learning to wait well is one of life’s greatest challenges.

The author of the book of Lamentations knew this to be true when he referred to waiting as a “yoke”—a difficult burden—that people should learn to bear in their youth (Lamentations 3:27). In other words, we never “graduate” from waiting, which means that the sooner we learn to do it well, the better.

This verse sent me on a mission to try to help my kids learn to wait well. So far, so difficult!

Some time ago we had friends coming to visit from out of town. As I withstood a barrage of “Are they here yet?” type questions from my kids, I realized that I could leverage the intuitive connection within each of us between waiting and looking.
“Why don’t you go out on the front porch and keep an eye out for them?” I suggested. I don’t think I had even finished my sentence before they were gone.

 

Waiting and Seeing

When we’re waiting, we’re also typically on the lookout. This was certainly true for Simeon, whose story comes to us in the book of Luke.

There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, waiting for Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said,

Now, Master,
you can dismiss your servant in peace,
as you promised.
For my eyes have seen your salvation.
You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel. Luke 2:25–32 (ESV)

Do you see it? The connection between waiting and seeing. God had promised Simeon that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. And then, Simeon’s masterful declaration, with the baby Jesus in his arms, that my eyes have seen God’s salvation. Amen and amen.

The Advent season is upon us again. Advent literally means “coming,” and this season is a time we seek to grow in our ability to wait well for Jesus’ second advent/coming by reflecting back upon his first advent/coming. In other words, we ought to “be out on the front porch, keeping an eye out” for Jesus.

But what do we do when it’s hard to see what God is up to? How do we respond when it feels like God has forgotten about us and all we can see is darkness? How do we wait well when we’ve already been waiting for so long?

 

Waiting and Christmas

I imagine that Simeon sometimes wrestled with questions like that. Anna too (Luke 2:36-38). Maybe Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, and perhaps even the angel Gabriel also struggled waiting and wondering. You can almost picture him, right? “God, what ARE you up to with this strange plan?”

This Advent season let’s connect anew with the sometimes strange Christmas story, and what some people saw that first Christmas, waiting and watching for God to show up and fulfill his promises.

Celebrating Work

Celebrating Work

The origin of Labor Day is rooted in the late 19th century pro-labor/pro-worker movement, and “is an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers.”

Of course, followers of Jesus know that long before America decided to federally codify a celebration of work and workers, God himself initiated and patterned for us both good work well done, and the celebration of it. 

This truth should continue to be emphasized: work is part of God’s “very good” created order. Indeed, a key reason why God created humanity was to participate with God in “working” the garden, harnessing and catalyzing the latent potential within it, making it into even more.

And while every inch of work has been marred by humanity’s rebellion and God’s righteous curse, we must never forget that it was good first. We must never forget that we were created with work in mind.

 

The Sunday to Monday Gap

The tragic truth is that many followers of Jesus do forget this. So many of us fail to connect our Sunday faith to our Monday work. So many of us are suffering from a dreaded “gap,” not seeing how the rich formation of the church “gathered” could have an indelible impact on the work of the church “scattered.”

And even more tragic, too many churches and pastors perpetuate this problem. Many do so unknowingly, but unintended harm is still harm nonetheless.

Christ Community is committed to writing a different story about work, but the staff can’t do it alone. We need each one of you on this vital journey, which is why one of my favorite worship elements on Sunday mornings is the “This Time Tomorrow” interview. 

The name of the interview is built on a simple question: What will you be doing this time tomorrow? In other words, what will occupy your time on Monday morning at about 9:15 AM? Or, stated more directly, tell us a bit about what you do for work!

 

Lynett Wheeler at Work

In a world of diverse occupations, some roles stand out not just for the products they create but for their impact on people’s lives. Lynett Wheeler is a co-owner of Color Design, a decal company specializing in vehicle aesthetics. With her son by her side, Lynett dedicates herself to turning ordinary vehicles into works of art. 

Lynett’s daily routine involves much more than meets the eye. As she sets out to customer locations, armed with vinyl pinstripes, custom graphics, and a mission to breathe new life into vehicles, her expertise extends beyond mere aesthetics. 

“I enjoy the challenge of returning a vehicle’s exterior decals and stripes to before-wreck condition. God has given me the ability and physical strength to make things ‘good’ in my sphere of work.”

The sense of accomplishment derived from restoring a vehicle’s exterior decals to their former glory is a reward in itself. With a genuine passion for her work, Lynett sees God’s hand in her abilities and has found a way to bridge the gap between her faith and her occupation. 

“In the past, I wondered if my work had eternal value. Because of the teaching at church, I have come to see that my work matters to God for many reasons, one of which is because it makes things beautiful. For who is more beautiful than him?” Through her craftsmanship, Lynett showcases God’s restoration, one vehicle at a time.

Yet, her work also exposes her to the brokenness of life. Each damaged vehicle represents not just physical harm but the emotional toll on families. Lynett’s heart connects her to the stories behind the repairs, reminding us that even in a business focused on beauty, there’s a profound recognition of the pain experienced by others. Lynett’s story serves as a reminder that faith isn’t confined to Sundays; it can be woven into every aspect of life. 

Lynett’s journey reminds us that each profession, however distinctive, can serve as a conduit for expressing God’s love and restoration in the world.

“Slow Me Down” … During VBS Week?

“Slow Me Down” … During VBS Week?

The Joys and Challenges of VBS Week

The Shawnee Campus hosted Vacation Bible School again this year, and it was AWESOME. Ninety kids, 75 volunteers (including 25 student volunteers), and just buckets of energy in the building for four straight nights. It was an “all-in” event for our staff, and I had the privilege of serving as “Storyteller” for the week, along with the “Host,” Johnny Tsunami, otherwise known as Johnny Daigle, our pastoral resident.

It truly was a blessed week, but I’ll be honest, in a variety of ways, it was also a frenetic and frantic week. Building set-up, lesson prep, volunteer training, loooooong nights, and more. And all the regular weekly rhythms still remained: staff meeting, pastoral care, Sunday morning sermon.

It’s hard for me to admit, but during the midst of all that, my inner world started to speed up to an uncomfortable pace. It’s that feeling of not noticing that you’re driving 17 miles over the speed limit, but then you see a police car up ahead. “Ah! I’m going WAY too fast, and now I’m also stressed that I’m going to pay for it in other ways!”

Do you ever feel that? Frenetic? Frantic? Like you’re giving all you have but it’s just not enough, and the only option is to speed up and “drive” faster?

Listen, friends, I don’t know the exact “speed limit” of our souls (and it’s probably different for each of us), but I do know that I tend to very regularly jam my foot down on the accelerator and start driving my life, body, and soul faster than I should.

 

The Gift of Slowing Down

Which is why it’s a gift when God reminds us of our need to slow down.

He has an incredibly diverse number of ways to do this, some more extreme than others. There have been times in my life where God had to hit me over the head with a sledgehammer to get me to slow down.

Thankfully, this most recent time, he reminded me with a song, not a sledgehammer.

I’ve been listening to The Porter’s Gate worship collective since they started making beautiful music together in 2019. The Porter’s Gate is a sacred ecumenical arts collective reimagining and recreating worship that welcomes, reflects, and impacts both the community and the church. It was founded with a mission to be a “porter” for the church—one who looks beyond church doors for guests to welcome.

They have a number of stunning albums, and one of their most recent is titled “Worship for Workers.” Their first album was called “Work Songs,” so I went into my listening of their follow up album on the topic of work with low expectations. How much meat could really be left on that bone?

I was sorely mistaken! The whole album is incredible, but the first song is how the Lord graced me to remember to slow down. Not surprisingly, it’s titled “Slow Me Down.”

And honestly, at this point, I don’t even want to say any more. Enjoy, be blessed, and for the love of your soul, SLOW DOWN.

 

“Slow Me Down” Lyrics

O Good Shepherd, would you teach me how to rest
I’m rushing on, will you make me to lie down
Will you build a fold by the waters that refresh
Will you call my name and lead me safely out

From my anxious drive to labor on and on
From the restless grind that has put my mind to sleep
Will you call me back and gently slow me down
Will you show me now what to lose and what to keep

O Good Shepherd, O Good Friend slow me down.

When my table’s bent with only greed and gold
And my grasping hands are afraid you won’t provide
Will you pour the wine that loosens up my hold
Set your table here with what truly satisfies

On the busy streets trying to make myself a name
If the work is yours, there is nothing I can claim
Will you lead home to the pastures of your peace
The house is yours, I’m sitting at your feet.

Who Will Lift Up Your Arms?

Who Will Lift Up Your Arms?

Lately, I have been unable to stop considering Galatians 6:2. 

It contains one of the most fascinating “conditional statement commands” in all of the Bible, and is eminently applicable for the persisting difficulties we’re all still facing. It starts off, “Bear one another’s burdens.” 

That’s the command, one of the more than 40 “one another” commands in the New Testament, which are designed to give shape to the emerging community of Jesus followers. Maybe you’ve seen those “In this house we…” signs that then go on to list certain characteristics (whether actual or aspirational) of the family who put the sign up. Whenever you come across a “one another” command in the New Testament, just imagine it on a sign like that for the family of Jesus followers. “In this house we… bear one another’s burdens.”

And how beautiful is that, by the way? 

But also, how necessary is that? 

The image that comes to my mind upon reading that command is a weary traveler, burdened down by long miles and a too-heavy load. What does that person need more than anything else? Someone to come alongside them and take up part of what they are carrying. Someone to “bear their burden.”

Here’s the truth: at different times, we will ALL find ourselves weary travelers, burdened beyond what we can bear. But thankfully, in the family of Jesus followers, there is a design for this inevitably. A surpassingly simple solution: don’t try to go it alone. Humble yourself enough to accept the help of others, to allow them to bear whatever portion of your burden they can. Friends, even Jesus himself needed help bearing the burden of his cross to Golgotha (Luke 23:26). Are we more capable than he? I pray we have enough humility to answer that question correctly.

Exodus 17:8-16 contains a beautiful example of Galatians 6:2 in action. God’s people, the Israelities, have come under attack by the people of Amalek. Moses, as the leader of God’s people, bears the ultimate burden of this “heavy load.” But he immediately and humbly invites help in bearing the burden, delegating the task of leading Israel’s warriors to Joshua. He also recognizes that he must ultimately depend on the strength of the Lord for the victory, so he crafts a plan that puts God at the center via his divinely blessed staff. Moses retreats up the hill, staff in hand. When he lifts it above his head, Israel gains ground in the battle below. But quickly, the staff becomes a literal burden that is too heavy for Moses to bear. And here is the surpassingly simple, Galatians 6:2 solution. Exodus 17, verses 12 and 13, “But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.”

Friends, who will lift your arms when they grow tired? Who will help bear your burdens? 

Recently, my family and I underwent a very intense six-week stretch of life. It quickly identified itself as a “burden too heavy,” but I am humbly eager to report that the family of Jesus followers we do life with at the Shawnee Campus showed up in a major way to “lift our arms.” To help bear this particular burden. It was extraordinary. Meals. Prayer. Texts of support. A constant stream of “How can we help?” and “What do y’all need?”

We were overwhelmed by, well, love. And that’s how we circle back to the last clause of Galatians 6:2. I started by saying that Galatians 6:2 is a “conditional statement command,” but so far, we’ve only discussed the command. 

Here’s the full verse, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Pretty important conditional statement, wouldn’t you say? But it leads us to ask, what exactly is the law of Christ? Thankfully, we are not left to wonder. We have a clear answer. In John 13:34-35, Jesus is addressing his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When we bear one another’s burdens, when we lift up one another’s arms, what we are ultimately doing is loving as Jesus loved. And what could be better than that? 

“Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

“Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

According to the original Brandes family (my family of origin: my dad David, mom Janice, and sister Annie), The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is, hands down, the best Christmas story ever.

A short novella written by Barbara Robinson in 1971, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever casts the six Herdman siblings as the extremely unlikely heroes of their local church’s annual Christmas pageant. Rough and tumble with a difficult home life, the Herdman children only darken the door of the church because they hear false rumors of an exorbitant snack situation in Sunday School. 

The snacks don’t materialize, but the Herdman siblings fill every material part in the pageant. From there chaos and hilarity ensue. But as the Herdman children come to understand the fresh wonder of Christmas for the first time, humility and joy also ensue. Deep, abundant joy. 

One of the climatic moments in the book comes in the midst of the actual performance of the Christmas pageant. Designed to be an opportunity for the church to quietly contemplate the wonder of Christmas, the only character with a speaking part is the Angel of the Lord, who announces the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. Gladys Herdman, the youngest and most unruly sibling steps to the front of the stage to fulfill that role. And, at the top of her lungs, shouts at the audience:


“Hey! Unto YOU a child is born!”

Departing after the pageant, one previously cantankerous church member comments to another, “It was so nice to actually be able to hear the Angel of the Lord this year!”

To which I say, amen! The message of the Angel of the Lord from Luke 2 should be SHOUTED from the rooftops:

[The shepherds] were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Two hundred years before Barbara Robinson drew upon this passage for The Best Christmas Pageant ever, Charles Wesley, the prolific hymn writer, brother of John Wesley, and one of the co-founders of Methodism, also found inspiration in the same passage for what he originally called “Hymn for Christmas Day.” 

A couple decades later in 1758, Wesley’s original was given an update by another founder of Methodism, George Whitfield, eventually resulting in the version we know and sing today, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The first verse displays clear allusions to Luke 2:9-14 (and to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever):


Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled”

Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”

Hark! The herald-angels sing
“Glory to the new-born king”

“Hark” is an old English word that means listen. It is an entreaty and invitation to stop all other affairs and pay attention to what comes next. Or, in Gladys Herdman’s shorter, gruffer version, “Hey!”

And what comes next IS a big deal. What comes next WILL bring “good news of great joy.” The long-awaited Savior Messiah has been born! The final verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels SIng” teases out the enormous implications of this good news proclamation, revealing why it is that the Herdmans experienced so much joy upon learning the truth of Christmas for the first time:


Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

This Christmas season, it is my hope and prayer that you experienced the same joy and wonder that the Herdman siblings did. Because “Hey! Unto YOU a child is born!”