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Are You Afraid of Graveyards?

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I grew up in a pastor’s home.  For us, that meant Tuesday evening visitation, a wedding or two, church twice on Sunday and every Wednesday, many funerals, and parsonage living.  If you’re not sure what a “parsonage” is, well, let me inform you. Many Baptist churches like the ones my dad served owned a home near the church where the pastor and his family could live.  It was usually a nice perk.  Growing up, we never had to drive to church. We could play basketball, run, ride our bikes, and even hit golf balls on the fairly large church property.  Parsonage living only caused problems for us in about three different ways to my kid eyes back then.  First, from time to time cantankerous church members thought my dad should be at their beck and call at midnight for their ingrown toenails, which happened almost exactly like that just a time or two.  Second, con artists and professional beggars assumed it was my dad’s duty to mortgage the church property so they could travel out of state to visit their dying parent. They only took cash of course.  Third, late evening errands (better worded nearly-heart-attack-inducing-pranks) at my brother’s and my expense kept my dad entertained between the con artists and cantankerous church members.  You see, the parsonage we lived in for about eight years stood roughly a short 100 yards from the church doors.  About fifty yards out, though, the church’s oldest graveyard spread out right across the most direct route from our house to the church.  You could go around it to the left, or right, but you’d walk a good half a mile (well not really) out of the way.  To us youngins, those extra steps around felt absurdly ridiculous when you could much more easily slip right through the graveyard.

My dad knew this.  So, that mean ole…I mean that troublesome…I should say that trickst…no that old codg…that guy we affectionately called dad,* phoned from the church about dusk one evening to have my mom send my nine year old twin brother and me to the church for an “errand.”  Dirty liar.

Unbeknownst to us, he slipped out to the graveyard, snuck in behind a large gravestone, and waited.  Hop-a-long and I bounced right past him being none the wiser till that cruel fiend pounced scaring the living daylights out of us. To this day, I still don’t know what the “living daylights” are because after that moment, I had none left.  I don’t know how fast I ran, but I do know I beat the socks off my brother back to the house that night. If he remembers differently, I assure you, his memory fails him. That’s one night my longer legs and childhood fears outdid him on both accounts.  If we hadn’t screamed so loudly, we would have heard my dad horse cackling as he rolled all over the ground in that graveyard.

Life’s that way sometimes, isn’t it? You find yourself cruising along, headed toward the next item on the to-do-list, only to have some frightful enemy jump out where (and when) you least expect it sending you back the way you came in sheer terror.  Or freezing you in shuttering dread.  Or shaking you down to your bones.  These “life frights” may even take days or years from you.  And just like my dad horse laughing, your dreaded enemy is likely cackling at your expense.

I’m glad Jesus doesn’t leave us without help, or hope, in such moments.  That day years ago, momma came to our defense.  I’m pretty sure she told my dad he’d be buried under one of those gravestones if he ever did such a heartless thing to us again.  At least that’s what I imagined her to say when he came laughing into the house while she consoled us.  When sin, or Satan, or one of his earthly minions, or life circumstances chase after us, we always, always have the alternative to run back to Jesus. In fact, that’s exactly what he wants us to do.

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
Proverbs 18:10

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27:5

1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
Psalm 31:1-2

He is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.
Psalm 144:2

*Important Note: I’m tempted to believe one of the unmentioned “spiritual gifts” in the Bible could be pestering. And I have learned by experience that my dad mastered the discipline of said gift. In like manner, I am striving to follow in his footsteps, although I have yet to scare my eight year old in a graveyard. But there’s still time 🙂

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 6

In the previous posts in this series, we’ve explored David’s command to “be still” in Psalm 46:10 and each of the specific meanings of that idea.  As I have alluded to through out those posts, our relaxing, waiting, and letting go aren’t some sort of mindless exercise. “Being still” has a direction, a target, a goal, and we cannot overlook the point of this pause.  The command to stillness finds its source and sustenance in knowing the identity, power, and authority of God.  We are to find our way to stillness with one explicit purpose–that we would see God be God.

David identifies characteristics of God’s power and authority that should reverberate loudly in our stillness.  He is a refuge, strength (46:1) and a fortress (46:7, 11).  He is the God over nature (46:2-4) and the God over wars (46:9).  In every line of this worship song he penned, the God we are to know in our stillness is anything but still, silent, or powerless.  He urges us to quiet ourselves in the raging and roaring of nature and hear his authoritative voice quell the wind and seas.  This Psalm echoes forward to the New Testament as Jesus stood up from his sleep in the boat to still the waves and stop the wind with the calming command, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:35-41).  When we still ourselves, we can know the One who rules nature with a simple whisper.

While the torrents of the skies and the seas submit to his words, we can also take comfort that the actions of humanity must kneel to him as well.  In the raging of nations and tottering of kingdoms (46:7), God is the one to stop wars and destroy weapons of warfare with just as much ease as he calmed that storm. Again, we see Jesus taking up this scepter of authority.  This time, his throne is not the tossing, titling bottom of a boat.  The full assault of Jewish hypocrites and Roman tyrants had focused all their resources to end his life.  But in power, the power of life over death, Jesus cried out in victory, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).  Three days later, his victory would be finalized as he burst forth from the useless and temporary chains of death in resurrection power (Romans 1:7).  And as he did, the spiritual kingdoms of raging tottering nations halted still, crumbling into heaps of dust.  When he completes his victory lap at his second coming, all nations and enemies will kneel before him (Philippians 2:10-11) powerless to any longer make war against the one who ceases all wars.

If you would be still, on God’s terms, you will see him work.  He will declare himself to be God in spite of your circumstances, challenges, relationships, or trials.  Storms stop when he declares himself.  Wars cease when he announces his presence.  We need only to relax, wait, and let go. We need only to be still.

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 3

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 4

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 5

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 5

Tighten your fist. Hold it. Count slowly to 30 seconds. Now imagine how often you do just that emotionally. Reflect upon how many times in a given week your anxiety knots up just like your hand just did. Ponder how frequently you bind up your insides trying to hold together, or pull in, or fix, or — dare I say it — control what’s going on around you. I’m like that far more than I’m comfortable admitting. But I am also encouraged, because God’s Word here in Psalm 46:10 has an antidote for that symptom of “busyness” as well.

In a couple of the previous posts, we looked at how the word translated “be still” means to relax and wait. The word also means to let go. This closely related idea pleads with us to comprehensively loosen our grip of control on the circumstances and situations around us. You see, when we relax, we wait. When we wait, we let go. When we let go, we relax. Each idea, while distinct, is really an interrelated way of doing the other two.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Yes. “Let go, and know that I am God.” Exactly.

Let go of control. Stop grabbing at it. As you do, look to God. That’s the point of each application. In our relaxing, waiting, and letting go, we aren’t to mindlessly stall out, quit on our responsibilities, or break from relationships. We are to meditate on God’s power, authority, presence, and majesty. We are to reflect on his past involvement in our lives. We are to seek his active authority in our day-in, day-out routines. We are to know that he is God!

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 3

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 4

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 4

An Illustration in Waiting

I am an answer to persistent prayer and a diligently waiting mother. Much like Hanna (1 Samuel 1) and Elizabeth (Luke 1) pleaded for children and God graciously answered each one, my Mom implored God for a child and He answered her three-fold: twin boys and a girl. She had experienced a number of health complications in her teen years and early adulthood that led doctors to warn, “You may never have children.” Not long into her marriage to my Dad, her longing for a child turned to praying for God to give her what she feared she may never have. Prayers early in the morning and late at night continued for weeks. Weeks began to bleed over into months. Months and months of prayer eventually creeped into years. Those years stretched into more than a decade. That decade of praying and pleading with God was marked by seasons of great intensity, days of fasting, and stretches of settled faith. God didn’t answer her prayer for a child until she and my Dad had been married more than 10 years. When He answered the first time, He gave her twin boys. She would pray again. Three years later, he gave her a daughter.

Nearly 4 decades later, I never want to forget that my Mom waited and prayed anticipating God’s ears hearing and his hand acting. I never want to forget that because she waited expectantly, I’m here typing these words right now. I never want to forget that her waiting displays what David commands in Psalm 46:10. Be still. Wait.

In contrast, Sarah didn’t wait on God. Although she would be the eventual mother of Isaac, God’s promised child to her and Abraham, she couldn’t be patient. She took matters into her own hands, giving her servant Hagar to Abraham as a wife and surrogate mother who would give birth to Ishmael. Sarah’s impatience would cause much turmoil in her home and eventually lead to great contention between Ishmael’s descendants and Isaacs descendants for generations.

To wait on God, as David commanded, means to remain actively actionless. It’s an expectant waiting. It’s a hopeful waiting. It’s an eager waiting. It’s a prepared waiting. But it’s waiting! Sarah grasped and manipulated and “helped” God, and in so doing made most everything worse. But her gracious God still gave Isaac. While this is pure speculation, it almost appears that Hannah and Elizabeth looked to their ancestor Sarah and refused to “help God out.” They waited, and pleaded, and he acted. In his due time.

On January 15, 2018, after years of battling heart issues and other physical difficulties, my Mom finished her waiting. If she had lived longer than she did, her course would’ve meant constant pain and doctor’s appointments to maintain, at best, her disintegrating health. Much as she had years ago, she waited on Jesus to visit her. This time she was waiting on him to take her home. And he did. All of her waiting is over. But ours is not, so let us wait patiently, prayerfully, intentionally, expectantly. For he will act!

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 3

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 3

Gods Antidote to Busyness

Wait for it! Wait for it! Wait for it!

Those words spark my attention when I’m watching a funny video. Like this one.

Waiting in those instances can be easy. First off, you can see how long until the payoff. I can wait 15 seconds. Now if your “wait for it” video said 30 minutes, I wouldn’t watch. But here’s the kicker. Even if I did watch, I would know the video would end by 30 minutes. Waiting in real life doesn’t often work that way, but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

In my last post, we looked at how “be still” means to relax. The word also means to wait. Literally, being still means to delay action almost to the point of laziness. In one sense, the word means essentially to wait limply, to extend a period of time unduly, to be limp or slack in taking an action.*

David is teaching us to wait indefinitely on God to act. This idea frequents the pages of Scripture (Psalms 25:5, 27:14, 37:7, 123:2; Isaiah 8:17, 30:17, 40:31; Lamentations 3:24-26; Micah 7:7; James 5:7-8 alongside numerous others). Jesus himself illustrates what this type of waiting looks like. In John 11, he received word that his friend Lazarus was sick. He waited for two more days (11:6). The healer. The great physician. The one who could fix blind eyes and mend lame hands. The one who stops winds and stills waves instantly, waited. In those waiting days, Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, anxiously longed for their friend to arrive to make him better. But he didn’t, and Lazarus died. As you would expect, Mary and Martha confronted Jesus with confusion, anger, and frustration, “Why did you wait? Where were you? If you had been here, he wouldn’t have died!” (11:17-33).

He delayed to such a point as to appear lazy. He extended time unduly. He was still. Why? One reason: that they might know he was God. Jesus had the ultimate “wait for it” moment. Instead of settling for just healing a sick friend, Jesus asked to be ushered to his gravesite. There, he called Lazarus from the dead and resurrected him (11:43). What might have been a mere routine healing now became the most dramatic example of miraculous power each onlooker had ever experienced. He wasn’t a mere healer. He turned back the clock on death itself!

Back to Psalm 46:10. If we’re not careful, we may think David is encouraging us to practice a careless or pointless waiting, but he’s not. This waiting is a willful wait. It’s intentional. It’s deliberate. It’s purposeful. As we see in Jesus’ delay to allow Lazarus to die, the waiting looks forward to the display of God’s glory and power (read John 11:40-43 to see this exact truth in Jesus’ own words). It’s exactly what David was teaching, “Be still and know that I am God” or “Wait and know that I am God.” God is saying, “Wait expectantly and I will work.”

What about you? What have you learned from God in times of waiting? How has he displayed his power when you attentively waited on him to move? Share your thoughts or experiences in the comments section below.

*Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

Thanks Mom (and Thanks to Many of You too)

Over the past week, I have been held up, strengthened, encouraged, and kept well by the invisible yet very real power of prayer. It’s fitting. My mom taught me and showed me the power of desperate prayer. She also first modeled for me the beauty of daily, routine (even mundane) praying. My Mom, Elaine Hefner, passed away last week from a heart attack and the many multifaceted health complications that had kept her at the doctor and in great pain for years. In one sense, her death was a shock. She hadn’t reached 70 years old. In another, it was anticipated. Our family knew what she was going though and the severe limitations on her quality of life.

My Mom wasn’t perfect. Far from it. She was quirky, flawed, and sinful. Just like you. Just like me. That’s part of what makes her prayer life stand out. She knew she needed God. Often. So she prayed. Often. At major crossroads, she prayed for wisdom because in her human shortsightedness, she couldn’t see. At mounting problems, she prayed for intervention because she knew only God could meet her situation and fix it. At trying life transitions, she prayed for help because she knew only God’s strength could get her and my dad through. Over this past week, I heard people tell me that my Mom was like a spiritual guru, Christian guide, or godly encourager to them. Why? She could give out to others because she knew she needed to drink deeply and regularly from the well of God’s wisdom and provision.

When I found out about her passing, my family and I began trying to make plans to leave to be with my Dad and other family in Kentucky. Only, my wife and son were both in the midst of fighting the flu. So we prayed. First, we prayed they would get better so we could go. Second, we prayed I wouldn’t get the flu so I could be with my family and speak at my Mom’s memorial. God answered both.

All week, my family wrestled with the lingering effects of the flu, the deep sadness at this painful loss, the constant weight of dealing with the aftermath of her death, and the navigation of each event, conversation, and reunion with family and friends. I can’t remember feeling more emotionally or physically exhausted.

But here’s the more important truth. Please don’t miss this. I have never in my life felt more carried along by the prayers of God’s people than I did this past week. That’s where many of you come in. I know you prayed for me. On Tuesday morning after she passed, I stood to preach at Fruitland Baptist College. In that sermon, I was privileged to honor my Mom in tribute. As I did, some of your prayers held me up. On Wednesday, as we wrestled to fight the flu out of our home, God took some of your prayers and kept that sickness from me and pulled it out of my wife and son. On Thursday as we traveled on slick, snowy roads to be with my family, God took some of your prayers and ushered us safely each mile of the journey. On Friday as we visited with family and began to untangle my parents’ finances and my dad’s next steps, God took some of your prayers and granted wisdom. On Saturday, as our family took to visit with friends and speak at her memorial service, God took some of your prayers and empowered us with dramatic strength and his joyous presence. I could keep going. But I think you get it.

In her life, my Mom taught and modeled for me a heritage of prayer. In her death, God honored many of her prayers among us. And, he heard and answered many of your prayers on our behalf. I believe in the power of prayer more than I ever have.

The grieving and wrestling and navigating isn’t over. I have my moments. So does my Dad. And my family. But I know God will walk us through. Because my Mom prayed. Because I’m praying. Because you are praying too. And God hears them. And he’s still hearing them. And he’s answering. And I expect, he will keep answering them. That’s what he does when his people pray.

Thanks Mom for the prayers. And thank you too. Each and every one of you. I’m more grateful than you may ever know.

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 2

Gods Antidote to Busyness

Words have nuanced meanings.  Take “take” for instance. Take can mean to buy or chose, “I’ll take one large coffee.”  Take can mean going with someone to show them where to go or how to get there, “I’ll take you to the coffee shop.”  Take can also mean a certain amount of time to do something, “Our coffee maker only takes a few minutes to brew.”  I think I need a cup of coffee now.

In the Bible, words are also like that.  The same word can have nuanced or varied meanings.  That’s exactly the case with the Hebrew verb translated, “Be still,” in Psalm 46:10.

Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

The word has three distinct yet related meanings: relax, wait, and let go.* Each one of these meanings has tremendous spiritual implications for each of us.  And each meaning teaches us another step in applying this simple command.   That first meaning, relax, offers specific direction against our busyness.  Emotionally, spiritually, physically, or socially, busyness tends to tighten our tensions rather than relax them.

As a pastor, obeying this meaning is often the hardest part of being still for me.  So much about what I end up doing in ministry seems to require a tension, a determination.  I  set my focus and plow forward. I see a need and move to meet it quickly. I have a message and prepare it (and preach it) intensely. I see a problem and attempt solve it aggressively.  I find a sin and work to root it out tirelessly.  The great commission looms over my head. The un-reached cry out from our communities, states, and mission fields urging me to press.

Ministry can seem to beg you, woo you, plead with you to do anything but relax.  Ministry isn’t the only culprit though.  Any of our callings, careers, or ongoing duties can speed us up into a frenzy tempting us to think that busier s better. But right here, in David’s psalm recalling the authority, power, and magnificence of God’s sovereignty, he commands us to relax.  To relent our grasp. To essentially lay down, still, in a posture of restful resignation to God’s power.

Recently, my wife and I were discussing something before us in our lives together. With my often restless eagerness and busyness, I was bouncing verbally around and around this issue.  As I was speaking, I looked over to see her smile, and gently remind me, “God’s got that.”  Her words shattered my restless moment with calming confidence.  I thought to myself, “Yes, he does.”  And for those next few moments, I befriended David’s instruction here.  The stillness of relaxing in God’s control enveloped me in settled assurance.

In your late night toils awake in frustration, God wants you to relax in his power.  In your people tensions with some you would rather not have to constantly face, God wants you to relax.  In your health anxiousness awaiting a doctor’s phone call to give you the test results, God wants you to relax.  He’s commanded it. Be still.  Stop squirming.  Stop grasping.  Stop flexing.  Relax.

What lessons have you learned about relaxing along the way? What tools or habits help you practice this command? I’m curious to read your responses.

*Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Other Posts in this Series:

The Antidote to Busyness, Part 1