Patience In An Impatient World


Dr. Richard Halverson, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, spoke before a group of evangelicals who had expressed their anger about the Congress’ inactivity on the subject of school prayer. They were irritated that Congress had not acted with a strong initiative to restore prayer in schools. To those who were seeking greater initiative from the government, Dr. Halverson asked, “How many of you have prayed with your children this month, outside of church?” Nobody raised their hand. Spiritual initiative starts in the home, not Capitol Hill.

Happiness now-people seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy–“I want what I want and I want it now.” No one wants to wait for anything and, for the most part, no one has to anymore. We have the phone moving to the video phone. We have overnight express and in some places same day express.
Computers, faxes, etc. have made everything instant. Waiting is interpreted as pain. People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so. The problem is that, in this country, you can have what you want when you want it most of the time. People like the fact that they can buy a 50-foot tree and instantly plant it in their yard. Why on earth would anyone want to wait on relationships or wait on God?

In the 1960’s researchers at Stanford University ran the “marshmallow test.” A researcher would tell a four-year old the following: “I am leaving for a few minutes to run an errand and you can have this marshmallow while I am gone, but if you wait until I return, you can have two marshmallows.” After a dozen years they restudied the same children and found that those who had grabbed the single marshmallow tended to be more troubled as adolescents. The kids who wolfed down one marshmallow instead of waiting for two, scored an average of 210 points less on SAT tests. There is real and documented value to controlling and disciplining our desires.

A principal part of faith is patience. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in A Twentieth Century Testimony: I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo-jumbo, as Aldous Huxley envisaged in Brave New World, the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. Patience is that calm and unruffled temper with which the good man bears the evils of life, whether they proceed from persons or things. It also manifests itself in a sweet submission to the providential appointments of God and fortitude in the presence of the duties and conflicts of life. This grace saves one from discouragement in the face of evil, aids in the cultivation of godliness, aids the development of the entire Christian character, and continued till the end, will terminate in reward in the life to come.

When Leo Durocher was manager of the Dodgers, he was once booed for removing a popular pitcher in the eighth inning of a close baseball game. After the game, a reporter asked Durocher how he responded to such vocal criticism, and the manager replied, “You know, baseball is like church. Many attend, but few understand.” That is often the case with criticism-it grows out of incomplete or inaccurate understanding of a situation.

Once Phillips Brooks was pacing back and forth in his study when a friend came by and asked what was wrong. “The problem is, I am in a hurry and God is not,” Brooks replied. “When God wants an important thing done in this world, or a wrong righted, He goes about it in a very singular way. He does not release His thunderbolts or stir up His earthquake. He simply has a tiny, helpless baby born, perhaps in an obscure home, perhaps of a very humble mother. Then He puts the idea or purpose into the mother’s heart, she puts it into the baby’s mind and then — God waits.”

God is a patient God. The challenge for the Christian in this process of growing spiritually is to learn the patience of God. God forced the children of Israel to live in the desert for 40 years to learn not only obedience but patience. They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

(1 Cor 13:4) Love is patient, love is kind, Paul said. (Dan 10:2-15) Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips;
and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

Patience builds spiritual character. In March 1995, The New England Pipe Cleaning Company of Watertown, Connecticut, was digging twenty-five feet beneath the streets of Revere, Massachusetts, in order to clean a clogged 10-inch sewer line. In addition to the usual materials one might expect to find in a clogged sewer line, the three-man team found 61 rings, vintage coins, eyeglasses, and silverware, all of which they were allowed to keep. Whether it’s pipes or people, if you put up with some mess, sometimes you find real treasure.”

Does Purgatory Exist?


I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue lagoon. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until, at length, she is only a ribbon of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “There, she is gone!” Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. Her diminished size is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she is gone,” there are other voices glad to take up the shout, “There, she comes.”

The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon the twilight but opens upon the dawn. But we Christians have never understood this process we call “death.” And we have the tendency to fear that which we do not understand. The knowledge of going to Heaven and the paradise that is found there gives us hope, but the passage concerns us.

At the very moment of Jesus’ death on the cross some very odd things happened in Jerusalem. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matt 27:51)

The faithful believers who had died and were buried, came to life. I have to ask the question, “They haven’t already gone to Heaven?” Even Jesus said to the dying thief, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (John 11:1) When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Jesus, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” FOUR days and he wasn’t in Heaven?

One of the major differences between Protestant and Catholic understandings of the “last things” relates to the question of purgatory. Purgatory was an in between place, in between life and eternity. The Catholic’s view it more as an intermediate stage, in which those who have died in a state of grace are given an opportunity to purge themselves of the guilt of their sins before finally entering heaven. The Church developed a practice of praying for the dead.
1 Cor 15:29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?

Purgatory comes to us from a Jewish history. (1 Sam 28:8) So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.” But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done.
He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.” “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.

It was believed that all who died were held until the “great resurrection.”
(John 11:23) Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

(Jude 8) But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Paul addresses a very real question that the Church has about those who have died. Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. What the Church is wanting to know, have things changed? We believe (the Church) that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Paul finds himself battling with what has been taught to him in his Jewish tradition and what he feels confident in his soul. Paul when speaking of his own death says, (Phil 1:21-22) For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
While Paul’s theology seems to hint of a purgatory his heart was no where near that understanding.

John when writing Revelation even expresses the same feeling as Paul. (Rev 20:4) They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

When Jesus came, and especially following His resurrection, things radically changed. I believe that Paul uses the word “asleep” in our text today for a very important reason. He is trying to express a mystery that we do not completely understand. With God, time has no meaning. It has no confinement. Time is irrelevant. When we close our eyes in sleep at night, time is lost. What may only seem like five minutes has somehow become 8 hours.

One cannot be prayed in or out of what does not exist. The time of testing is over. No chance to repent of being bad. No opportunity to try to get it right.
No concern as to when the great resurrection will be, for time has no confinement. All that is important is that there will be a time when we will meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.

What Will The New Millennium Bring?


Revelation 21:1-5

One Sunday a pastor told his congregation that the church needed some extra money and asked the people to prayerfully consider giving a little extra in the offering plate. He said that whoever gave the most would be able to pick out three hymns. After the offering plates were passed, the pastor glanced down and noticed that someone had placed a $1,000 bill in offering. He was so excited that he immediately shared his joy with his congregation and said he’d like to personally thank the person who placed the money in the plate. A very quiet, elderly, saintly lady all the way in the back shyly raised her hand. The pastor asked her to come to the front. Slowly, she made her way to the pastor. He told her how wonderful it was that she gave so much and in thanksgiving, asked her to pick out three hymns. Her eyes brightened as she looked over the congregation, pointed to the three handsomest men in the building and said, “I’ll take him, and him, and him.”

William Barker relates the story of a bishop from the East Coast who many years ago paid a visit to a small, midwestern religious college. He stayed at the home of the college president, who also served as professor of physics and chemistry. After dinner, the bishop declared that the millennium couldn’t be far off, because just about everything about nature had been discovered and all inventions conceived. The young college president politely disagreed and said he felt there would be many more discoveries. When the angered bishop challenged the president to name just one such invention, the president replied he was certain that within fifty years men would be able to fly. “Nonsense!” sputtered the outraged bishop. “Only angels are intended to fly.” The bishop’s name was Wright, and he had two boys at home who would prove to have greater vision than their father. Their names: Orville and Wilbur.

Most of us lived through the year 2000. The year was a mile marker and the millennium held a lot of changes for all of us. We heard about the 2000 computer bug, but it amounted to nothing. Banks didn’t close and money didn’t get misplaced. Utilities were not interrupted. There wasn’t the panic and chaos that was predicted. The ball dropped in Times Square and everyone celebrated a new century.

The new millennium did not bring the “Second Coming” of Jesus? To that I can give you a definite positive. There were many who predicted that Jesus would return in 2,000. Jesus made it very clear that “no one except the Father knows the day or the hour” of Jesus’ return. The scripture teaches that time is already established. Whether it will be in the next millennium or beyond, only God knows. Every nation has not yet heard the word. The Temple is not in place in Jerusalem. Will these things be in place by the end of the new millennium?

I find it interesting that we always want to put a time frame for God. (Ps 90:4) For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (2 Peter 3:8) But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. When will we learn that God is not human and is not bound by time as we are bound?

The millennium, and the years since with advanced technology have forced our world to be smaller. The new millennium opened with 8 billion people inhabiting the world. The one instruction that God gave us that we have done and done well has been to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” It is a serious problem that the Church must address. Population increases and resources decrease. A population out of control causes other social ills: the polarization of those who have and those who have not. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This causes injustice and breaks down community harmony. The Church becomes hypocritical when it cries that injustice is wrong and yet is demanding a lack of birth control that feeds or causes the injustice. The Church must wake up to the reality that prevention is part of the cure.

We no longer can view ourselves as isolated from the rest of the world. What happens in another country directly affects us. We have in years past been very narrow minded. C. S. Lewis said, “God must like diversity because he made us all so different.”

The “pluralism” of our world will demand greater tolerance in the generations to come. This will be increasingly difficult for a people who are becoming more and more polarized in their thinking and views. For the Christian there will always be the struggle to be in the world but not of the world. What this means is that we will have to accept the fact that we live in a pagan world, that just happens to have a majority of people that call themselves Christian. We are in a time of “political religiosity.” The Moral Majority, now when have you ever known the majority to be moral? Matt 7:13-15 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Christianity is at its best when it is a minority.

Max Lucado tells a story from his days in Brazil. The small house was one room on a dusty street on the outskirts of a village. Gray walls and a dirt floor. An old calendar, crucifix and not much furnishings. Maria’s husband had died when Christina was an infant. Maria was a maid and couldn’t afford much. Now Christina was old enough to work. Christina had eyes on the city and left. There were few ways in the city for Christina to survive. None of them good. One day Maria took a bus to the city. She spent her savings to have pictures made for Christina. She made the rounds to the bars, flop houses and everywhere. A few weeks later Christina descended the hotel stairs. She was tired, her eyes no longer danced with youth but pain. Her dream had become a nightmare. She longed for home, but it was too far away. At the bottom of the stairs her eyes caught a familiar picture. On the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Her eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and took the photo. Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home. Let’s begin again.

This is our purpose in all of the millenniums ahead. Our task. Our heart. Our soul.

The Beatitudes: Mourning Christians


Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We never know what God has planned for us. The conference that I attended in Puerto Rico in the Spring several years ago was good, but I begun to wonder if I should go. A hurricane that fall (nothing like what they had this year) had damaged the hotel we were to stay in and had to be moved to a different hotel. Then my airline schedule was changed without my approval. When the host professor from the seminary became ill and a different professor had to be sent, I really began to wonder.

But in due time we see God’s plan. A minister my age pasturing in another state, with a congregation much like Hillside attended the conference. The two of us had struck up a friendship about five years earlier at another conference we had attended in Atlanta. Neither of us had seen each other or talked with each other since that last conference.

I noticed a great change had taken place in his life. When I first met him he was overly self-confident, almost arrogant. This conference, he was noticeably quiet, introverted and very restless. He just learned at this conference about my wife’s death and he looked at me with a different look, it was obvious that something had been touched! Then he began to open up: His marriage of 18 years had ended. The reality was that the marriage was over long before the divorce. He took the responsibility of rearing their young daughter. In about a year he remarried, marring a lady that he had known since high school. The marriage ended in six months. The depression, the hurt, the isolation, they all came, but there was no one to help.

He retreated into himself to deal with the loss, the grief, the mourning and the pain. Now, two years later, he had worked through the depression. But he was different, he had changed considerably from the man I once knew. There was a restlessness about him, he was fidgety, and uncomfortable in couple oriented groups. All of us who have dealt with loss understand that feeling! He shared with me, “I don’t know what to do with myself.” And the words of Jesus came to mind, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

The word mourning is most frequently used in scripture for the dead, and for the sorrows and sins of others. There can be no comfort where there is no grief. The word used in Matthew 5:4 is the most intense pain for sorrow that can be found in the Greek language. Sorrow should make us look for the heart and hand of God and so find the comfort latent in the grief. The whole ministry of Jesus was geared to those who hurt and were sorrowful. Luke 4:18 “he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.

There are two meanings we can get out of this beatitude. “Blessed are they that mourn” means blessed are those who are afflicted with the loss of a friend or loved one. God has a special place in His heart for grief. The people mourned the death of Moses for 30 days. Jesus cried upon hearing about the death of Lazarus. God comforts those who will allow the comfort! Ida, the sister of Paula Pyles, shared that on the morning that Paula died there was such peace in the whole room. The grief was real, but the comfort of God was real in Ida’s soul. The Arabs have a saying, “All sunshine makes a desert.” In grief we learn something of ourselves, our fellow human beings and God. Matt 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

The second meaning I think is by far the most important meaning. It is of no little importance that this second beatitude follows the first beatitude of spiritual poverty. That is, those who, feeling their spiritual poverty, mourn after God, lamenting the iniquity that separated them from the fountain of blessedness. The one that knows his or her sin, mourns their sinfulness! As Christ came to preach repentance, to induce people to mourn over their sins and to forsake sin. 2 Cor 7:10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. Repentance, includes sorrow or mourning. We genuinely regret what we have done. A sense of anguish for sin characterizes the blessed man. But genuine repentance will bring comfort to the believer. Since Christ bore the sins of every man, the comfort of full forgiveness is readily available (). I Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

And the presence of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, brings comfort. While traveling on business, an executive had a very bad experience at one particular hotel. When he climbed into bed a bug started racing up his leg. He jumped from the bed, turned on the lights, and threw back the covers. The bug wasn’t alone…there were numerous other critters between the sheets. Although the man was granted another room, he was not satisfied with the situation. Upon returning home, he wrote a letter to the hotel’s corporate office. Within a few weeks he received a letter directly from the company’s president. With flattering remarks and penitent words the president made it quite clear the problem should have never occurred and that he would make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The businessman felt somewhat vindicated by the letter until a small post-it note fell from the envelope. The secretary had inadvertently left her boss’s directives on the reply. The little note simply said, “Send this man the bug letter.” It’s not repentance when we just try to cover our tracks after getting caught. Repentance involves a commitment to correct our ways. The man who knows his sins is greater than one who raises a dead man by his prayer.