Friday, June 25, 2010

Cultivating Patience

God planned that babies would arrive in nine months. We thought up instant milk formula. God told peach trees to produce peaches once a year. We thought up fast food and drive through. God ordered the earth to rotate around the sun once a year, and we invented the fast lane.

When any kind of trouble arrives, we want it over and done. Impatient, we want to trade those difficult days for our easygoing, regular life. The buzz words on the lips of on-the-go people are tweet, application, droid, and high speed. The words leisure, relax, languid, rest, and unwind have moved into the closet.

Some of us spend money we don’t have. Credit card debts mount because we want the vacation now. Rushing life, little girls wear clothing beyond their years. Speeding up their knowledge, boys are exposed to concepts kids were never meant to understand until they are older.

When confrontation arrives, instead of holding our tongue, some tell it like it is. We let them have a piece of our mind. No words barred. No holding back.

I commend those readers who have allowed God to instill and teach you patience. But for those of us, who haven’t quite opened the door and allowed patience to grow, we’ll consider that virtue this week. It remains noble to embrace this gift of the Spirit and good value that can be ours. We’ve already looked at joy and gentleness. Let’s read the list from Galatians 5:22 again and then think about patience, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Our culture has coined the term “instant gratification” that somewhat defines the opposite of patience. Waiting tends to be tedious, and we may not do it well. But the patient person has learned to take his time, thoroughly complete a job, and work well with people who are not on his time table.

Sometimes our overcrowded schedules trigger impatience and even rude behavior. We’ve piled so many things into our days that if anything goes awry (and they do and will), then we get snappish, out of sorts, and ill tempered. And our family and co-workers tuck tail and hide away or snap back.

Ok. If you lack patience, you’ve probably zeroed in on at least one area where you lack self-control. It’s not enough to just identify the problem area. For betterment, one must practice patience. I’ll share four steps to aid in becoming more patient.

First, since patience is fruit of the Spirit, ask for wisdom, insight and guidance in embracing this value. The more I’ve contemplated that all these qualities are embedded in God, the more humbled I am. The only way we really receive patience is through him, and being aware of our own frailties. So, the first step is to ask for God’s help in overcoming impatience.

Second, watch for opportunities to make a “patient sacrifice” – step out of the checkout lane and let the next person go first, even when you are hurried. Wave someone into merging traffic. Let that semi truck, with his turn signal on, go ahead of you. That’ll slow you down as the driver shifts through 13 gears to get moving. He’s had to be patient with cars darting around him all day. Return the favor.

Third, practice patience in listening to those around you. Wait. Let them tell their story. Stop what you are doing. Look into their eyes. Really listen. Don’t be thinking of a comeback, a matching story, or an angry retort. Simply respond with a pleasant acknowledgement of what they told you. James says it well, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19).

Finally, practice patience through waiting. Wait to buy. Wait to respond, count to ten. Wait until mealtime to eat. Practice choosing healthier foods, not what you crave. You’ll train yourself away from instant gratification, and your waistline will thank you.

If waiting is torture to you, then plant a garden. Flowers, vegetables, or herbs -- plant them and literally put a sign on a stake that says “Patience Garden.” Waiting on blossoms and color and fresh vegetables will remind you of God’s timetable, his natural speed bumps. Each time you water, weed, or fertilize, the activity will remind you of your partnership with God.

He will plant patience and you can watch it grow.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thank You, Gentle Dads

“Brimstone, damnation on top of hammeration.” In Walt Disney’s movie Pollyanna that’s how one parishioner described the minister’s weekly sermons. Because of his tirade, the flock departed each Sunday with open wounds instead of receiving encouragement to meet their work week.

Contrast that scene to the one in John when Jesus and his disciples dined together. “The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus . . . . He leaned back on Jesus’ breast” (John 13:23, 25). This tender setting reveals Jesus, gentle among his beloved.

The disciples who lived with Jesus witnessed his innate gentleness. He touched leprous skin; he scattered a fallen woman’s accusers. He then led her onto a path of righteousness, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). Gentleness, fruit of the Holy Spirit, surged through Jesus’ time spent with his disciples. Gentleness is the opposite of harsh treatment or an “I’m right; you’re wrong” attitude.

On this weekend when we honor fathers, I’m reminded of the fruits of the Spirit, especially “gentleness.” Last week, we considered “joy.” And this week, let’s think a bit about an easy-going way.

Jesus, on a holy mission to seek and save the lost, exhibited in his daily walk the fruit of the Spirit. You recall the list in Galatians 5:22: love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And while on earth, he remained supremely superior in every virtue.

Jesus didn’t twist arms to get people to believe that God was God. Jesus never coerced acquaintances, but rather gave his listeners reason, through living example, to believe he was God’s son, to believe that he spoke the truth. In demeanor and teaching, he refused to lord over people.

Meek, not wimpy or unassertive, gentle Jesus salted the earth with the wisest kind of living. God longs for relationship with us, but his approach is not bullying, revenge, manipulation or scare tactics, but rather the practice of gentle love.

Fathers, you are privileged to present the nature of God accurately. A humility laden life has the power to lead a child in the way they should go. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up strife (Proverbs 15:1). Message-seeds flung gently by sower-fathers into the lives of their offspring can fall on fertile “heart lands.”

Of course a godly father also knows when to administer appropriate discipline for misdeeds. We all make mistakes in parenting, but a father on a quest to embody the fruit of the Spirit will out-parent those who have no such goal.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the Holy Spirit left us word-pictures of God caring for his children. In the western world, we tend to use abstract words to describe God such as those which describe the fruit of the Spirit love, joy, kindness, etc. But in the eastern culture where the Bible originated, the people there often used metaphor in description.

So, the Bible is replete with word-pictures of strong, nourishing God described as a shepherd who looks for one lost sheep; a stable rock; or God stooping down, bending over like a dad, who scoops up a child and dries a tear. Also, God describes himself as engraving his beloved peoples’ names into the palm of his hand declaring, “I will not forget you.” He reminds them that their names are not on a stone monument stashed away somewhere, but on his very palms. Always before him (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Recently at an outdoor event, I watched as several elderly gentlemen hobbled to a wooden bench to sit side-by-side. One obviously had arthritis, one limped, one was simply stooped over – most likely from years of labor. Dads, you’ve done a lot for us. We know you have had us in your mind for many years, always wanting the best for us. You work hard, you provide, you nourish, and you give gentle answers. For mirroring our heavenly Father to us, we give thanks for you and to you. Happy Father’s Day.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Sunny Side

Our two-year-old granddaughter Molly loves to be outdoors, and she wanted to go outside one day last week when we kept her. However the heat index was 104 degrees. Grandmothers melt at that level. Did you know?

She didn’t kick or scream when I told her, “No, it’s too hot, Molly.” But, disappointed, she did lie facedown on the cool pine floor remaining silent and sad for a few minutes. Then, up she came -- off to play again -- in her usual happy mood.

This winter, Jolie, our five-year-old granddaughter, went to school several days when gray skies ruled and outdoor temps ranged in the teens in South Texas. On the weekend, a sunny day finally came along, but the outdoor temps remained in the low 20s. Jolie’s mom looked up just in time to see Jolie walking out of their home. Clad in a two-piece bathing suit, sun glasses, and with a rolled beach towel under her arm, she was ready for fun in the sun. Young children don’t comprehend the seasons -- they just trust their eyes to tell them if it’s sunny outside.

As little ones grow up, they finally learn that you can’t always trust that the sunny skies will tell you the outside temperature. Sheltered by the indoors and looking out windows, our eyes don’t comprehend the freezing or blazing temperatures. Understanding the changing seasons does that. But Christians have received a permanent joy that has nothing to do with playing outdoors in pretty weather.

In one section of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he contrasts the works that come from our flesh, and the works that flow from the Holy Spirit, who abides within Christians and gifts us with power over the sins of the flesh

Paul calls gifts from the Holy Spirit the “fruit” of the Spirit. Notice that’s a singular fruit. Because the Holy Spirit abides in us, he brings along his nature which has plenty of nutritious goodness including: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22). I love how Paul says there is no law against these, no throttle, no governor. Put them into gear as much as you want!

The one I want to focus on is joy. When we receive the Spirit of God, we receive the joy of God. God can gift joy because it is an innate quality of his. His abiding joy gifted to us does not depend upon sunny weather or circumstances. We can be in the throes of grief and still retain the joy of God. It may not bubble to the surface at those times, but it remains within us.

Because we have joy as a permanent gift, we are enabled to “enjoy” and “rejoice.” The prefix “en” means “in” or “into,” an act of taking in pleasure, from internal and external things. We can enjoy numerous things – from meditation on deeper things of life to the sight of a majestic mountain. The Spirit of God gifts us with the capacity to enjoy.

Also, the gift of joy gives us the ability to rejoice. The prefix “re” can mean once or repeatedly. We get to experience joy through one time events -- at a baptism or a wedding. Or, we rejoice again and again each time we see our loved ones or spouses or a sunrise. Bible reading can produce rejoicing, as the layers of God’s goodness become real to us. How many times have you rejoiced to see a child’s face light up with a smile? Take the hand of a young child and walk into any nursing home to see how aged, wrinkled faces react to someone so freshly molded from the hand of God.

A prophet wrote about how God, again and again, coos over us with satisfaction, “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). The word “rejoice” means that this happens repeatedly.

Kathy Hardee writes a blog where she shares one encouraging scripture each day. Her blog header reads, “Imagine God draping His arm around your shoulders every morning, and then telling you one thing.”

I’d like to borrow her phrase to emphasize that joy should rise with the sun each day. Imagine God draping his arm across your shoulder every morning and telling you, ‘Today I gift you joy, supported by my other attributes of love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

The old song lyrics from 1927 advises, “Keep on the sunny side of life.” Jesus followers, that’s genuine counsel. You’re not fooled by the hot or cold of life, because you are in a permanent season of joy.

Contact Cathy at

Friday, June 04, 2010


Tandem means an arrangement of two—as in tandem bike wheels or tandem trailer axles, or I’ve especially been thinking about two people who work side by side to accomplish a task. Several events of the past few weeks caused me to consider the word tandem—side by side, or one following the other.

As I helped my husband David un-tarp a load of alfalfa, we took our places on opposite ends of the first tarp, 25 foot long. First, we tugged the tarp off the high load of hay, and then we folded the corners inward. Next, we flipped up the 9 foot sides and tri-folded the 25 foot length. In the final step, we rolled it up until the tarp was tightly wound into a roll, 20 inches thick and three foot long. By then, it was manageable, even though it weighed over 100 pounds. Then we went through the same process with the second tarp.

We folded the tarps during the cool dawn. Since, we’d just returned from a trip and we’d talked as we traveled the 1200 miles, we were caught up on events, stories, and nonsense talk. So, on that morning we worked in tandem with no need to speak commands about tarp folding. Together, we’ve rolled up tarps for over 30 years. We know the exact steps it takes. We know each other, and we trust that each will follow through the processes. We worked in tandem—two by two.

My dear friend Pat laid her husband Bobby to rest last week. For three and a half years of his illness, she worked side-by-side with him to see him through with as much comfort as possible. Earlier in their lives, they retired about the same time, working together to beautify their new home site with Texas native plants, annuals, and perennials. And, when illness struck, they again worked in tandem—two by two.

About six weeks ago, my sweet cousin Sandy received bad news about her health, and it became apparent that she wouldn’t survive much longer. Her husband, children, and family went to her bedside. For two weeks, Sandy’s mother—her heart knit with her daughter’s—stayed by her side until she stepped from this world. In the final days, Aunt Faye and Sandy worked in tandem—two by two.

My uncle J. E., in poor health for several months, had a long hospital stay. His wife, my aunt Joyce, broke her shoulder during that same time. After her surgery, they were laid up in different hospital beds recovering, and he phoned to tell her how much he wished they were sitting side by side in their recliners, just eating ice cream together. For years the two of them enjoyed fishing and camping. So, until he passed, they continued two by two, working in tandem, even if it was just a phone call about ice cream.

My mother and daddy celebrate 63 years of marriage next week. Although my mom is very ill, Dad still brushes her hair and sits by her bed and feeds her. He still puts lipstick on her lips. He still kisses her lips. He’s pulling most of the physical load these days, but they’ve had a tandem marriage, living, loving—side by side—two by two.

Jesus, schooled in the old written law, knew that “two are better than one.” And, he issued an invitation to team up with him, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). And, he remains the best partner of all.

Our creation took two, our arrival took two, and our life-walks and departings go better with Jesus, friends, and family alongside. The wise preacher said, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; if one falls down, his friend can help him up….though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Harness us up with Jesus. He remains the best friend, defender, and co-worker we’ll ever have in life and in our passing. And, schedule time to express your appreciation to those who work two-by-two, sharing your day-to-day work and joys of life.

Asking Among Ourselves

“Are you asking among yourselves what I meant?” Jesus asked this question of his disciples on one of the last occasions he was with all of them (John 16:19 NLT). His disciples listened to Jesus’ teaching that night, but the essence of what he said didn’t saturate their understanding. So, even though Jesus sat in their midst, they chose to ferry their questions back and forth between themselves rather than ask Immanuel (means God with us) to explain.

Bible studies, Christian literature, one-on-one conversations, and lectures, all remain popular ways to increase knowledge about God. The Bible itself is the ultimate God-encyclopedia, but sometimes I don’t fully comprehend what I read there. I still dot the white-space margins in my Bible with question marks.

To get answers to Bible-margin-questions or big question marks in life, where should we turn? Most often, I resort to talking with friends who are on the same journey. But, could I be making the same mistake the disciples made?

Even with Jesus sitting at the same table, they debated the intricacies of his message. They ignored the available teacher in their presence. A little later that same evening, Jesus gave instructions for seeking wisdom after his ascension. “You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy” (16:24).

During that same guiding-session, Jesus also talked about The Comforter, the Holy Spirit who would “convince the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” He also named the prominent problem of the world. “The world’s sin is unbelief in me” (John 16:8, 9).

While the counsel of godly people is admirable and advisable, the best route for clear answers is a talk with the master of language, the Master Theologian. For answers to questions about life, earth, blue skies above, and the heavens beyond, God remains the best source.

When the Old Testament sufferer Job endured awful pain and loss, he questioned God, and little by little God revealed to this faithful man intimacies about God’s own nature. Job would later say, “My ears had heard of you, but now I’ve seen you” (Job 42:5). Job’s conclusion summarizes the current identifier “personal relationship,” which to me means experiencing God beyond Bible story facts – experiencing God in my personal daily walk.

God certainly left us a complete message about himself in the Bible, but we cannot experience God fully until we live in immortal bodies. God says about himself in Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” How marvelous is that to have brilliant and benevolent God looking out for us.

God gives us an avenue to get our questions asked – through prayer in Jesus’ name. Sometimes we get clear directives and sometimes heaven is silent. My comfort comes in knowing that God listens when I question him He knows the answer, even if he doesn’t reveal it to me. Jesus said to his disciples, “Are you asking among yourselves what I meant?” I like the alternative of asking God first, and then discussing with my fellow believers the intricacies of his answers.

As the old gospel hymn says, “I may have doubts and fears” but “just a little talk with Jesus makes it right.”