3:30 in the Afternoon

3:30 in the Afternoon

(I’ve invited friends to share their own stories of endurance or the stories of others. My prayer is that you would be inspired and encouraged as you read each guest post. Learn more about my new book: Sacred Endurance.)

By Christine Hoover

Every afternoon at 3:30, my dad drives to the nursing home that sits just outside his neighborhood. He swings his car around to the back, unloads fresh laundry, folds the day’s newspaper under his arm, and punches in the code to the employees’ entrance. He’s not an employee, but he’s been there so often that they finally offered him the code. That was helpful because his mom’s room is closest to the back door.

His mom—my grandmother—has been in the nursing home for several years now, ever since she fell and broke her neck and her body continued on as if nothing much had happened. Her heart and lungs remain healthy, but her mind began to cloud soon after her fall. Time has become difficult for her to measure, familiar names are outside her grasp, and sometimes she forgets that her beloved husband of sixty-seven years has died.

Every afternoon at 3:30, my dad begins the routine. When he gets to my grandmother’s room, he puts away her fresh laundry, asks about what she’s eaten, helps her choose her dinner from the menu, chats with her roommate, and reports on the weather outside, the great-grandchildren, or the latest family news. There is little for my grandmother to say, but he is there, nonetheless, to sit with her and listen. They then, together, work the crossword puzzle from the newspaper. As a child, I used to watch my grandmother make quick work of the daily crossword puzzle, and despite the decay of her ninety-year-old mind, she’s still somehow able to whip through the puzzle each day.

My dad says he sometimes wonders if he’s doing right by his mom. Perhaps there is a better nursing home, or perhaps he should push for a better roommate for her. But I say that every afternoon at 3:30, every time he punches in the code on the back door, my dad is a picture of sacred endurance. Sacred, because there is nothing holier or more honoring to God than obeying him and serving one in his name who cannot serve you back. Endurance, because it’s a string of days that have gathered into a string of years in which he’s having the same conversations, doing the same laundry, even answering some of the same clues on the crossword puzzles. Sacred endurance requires both heart and hands.

I’m starting to notice that, when it comes to sacred endurance, the ones who are doing it well are the ones who don’t think they’re doing it well at all. They don’t believe they’ve arrived or are above the grunt work; they’re just in it and remaining in it, willing to see their God-given task through, knowing they’ll see it through only by the help of God. For it’s this middle part, far from both the start and the finish, that most defines sacred endurance. No one is cheering. No one writes a thank-you note. No one knows the discouragement or the questions that plague you in the middle part. No one notices where you’ve gone to at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Except for One, of course. The motivation and fuel for sacred endurance is a firm conviction that God cheers what no one else cheers, that he sees what no one else sees, and that one day when the rewards are handed out, 3:30 in the afternoon will become an eternal treasure gifted by the hands of God himself.

I want to be like my dad. I want to serve at my own expense. I want to honor the Lord with my whole life, through days that string into years that string across mortality into eternity. I’m convinced that the only way that will happen is if I remember and believe with everything in me that this middle part won’t last forever. There is a finish line, and his name is Jesus Christ. One day my grandmother will see him, and my dad will see him, and I will see him. And then none of us will remember the way our bodies were broken, the struggle to endure in faith, or the code to the back door.

None of us will remember the middle part, because we will be Home, and all of endurance will turn into reward.

Christine Hoover is a pastor’s wife, mom of three boys, host of the “By Faith” podcast, and author of several books, including Searching for Spring: How God Makes All Things Beautiful in Time, Messy Beautiful Friendship, and From Good to Grace. Her new book, With All Your Heart, releases in March 2091. Christine’s work has appeared on Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and For the Church. Originally from Texas, she and her family now live in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they planted a church in 2008. Find her at her home online at GraceCoversMe.com.

 

 

 

Endurance Doesn’t Last

Endurance Doesn’t Last

(I’ve invited friends to share their own stories of endurance or the stories of others. My prayer is that you would be inspired and encouraged as you read each guest post. Learn more about my new book: Sacred Endurance.)

By Susan Codone

Human endurance doesn’t last. Rather, pummeled by life’s events, it jerks to a resentful stop, erupts in a bout of complaints, and then reluctantly reinstates itself to start again. Endurance is not a heroic stream of persistence or a durable march through adverse experiences. A genuine portrait of endurance is drawn in someone who suffers setbacks, protests and complains, but then, while still in the pain, realizes that God is still in control and, fortified, resolves to take another step.

The evidence of endurance comes through reflection; only by looking back can we see that despite the mishaps and troubles of life we trudged ahead, stopping and starting again, heads bent against the winds of adversity and hearts open to God. In seeing how our paths unfolded, we see that we endured.

In the Psalms and in Lamentations, the passages that express the most discontent follow a typical pattern. First, a setback or painful circumstance is described by a plaintive plea or complaint—a lament. Then the writer shifts and makes an abrupt transition, usually punctuated by a conjunction, to offer unexpected praise and confidence to God. It is as if the lamenter, emotionally bankrupt, exhausts himself in complaining and finds that the only thing left after all is God.

My favorite example of this pattern is found in Lamentations 3:19‒23, where the writer, obviously in a downward spiral, turns from defiant complaints to hope.

The thought of my suffering and homelessness

           is bitter beyond words.

I will never forget this awful time,

           as I grieve over my loss.

Yet I still dare to hope

           when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!

           His mercies never cease.

Great is his faithfulness;

           his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Note the dramatic turn at the word yet. The lamenter has crossed over from complaining to the grateful realization that God’s love never ends; His mercies are greater and He is faithful.

When I was a young teenager, both my youth minister and then my pastor sexually abused me. It began with my youth minister, who abused me for almost a year and a half. Then one night I went to my pastor for help. But instead of helping to free me from the abusive youth minister, the pastor blamed me and began what would become more months of abusing me himself.

What followed that awful night is seared into my memory. I came home, shut myself in my room, and rocked on my bed for hours, completely overwhelmed by the realization that no one would believe what was happening. Too afraid to tell my parents because of the threats of both men, I had nowhere to turn. Alone, terrified, and weary beyond measure, I told the God of my childhood that I didn’t know what to do. I asked Him for help and complained bitterly.

But as I prayed, a small sense of God’s presence lingered nearby, and I knew—without really knowing how I knew—that God was greater than those two men and He would take care of me. I don’t recall my specific prayer. I do believe, though, that my prayer was a lament that turned first into a small measure of confidence that He would help me and then perhaps even into praise.

Like Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations, I will never forget that awful time, and I still grieve over my loss. I’m fifty-one now, not fifteen, and I have lived my adult life stopping and starting, trying one coping strategy and then another, walking forward with my head bent and my heart open to God. Yet I still dare to hope because I remember that the faithful love of my Lord never ends. His mercies to me, and even to those who have abused me, never end. These mercies are new every morning. I am still learning how to lean into the gradual turn from setbacks to the unfailing hope of God. This leaning—this turning in lament—is my endurance.

My friend Trillia Newbell writes in her book Sacred Endurance about these morning joys. Trillia writes, “Our joy may not come in the morning. It may take years before we’re able to rejoice in our suffering.” She’s right. While I recall crying out to God that night at fifteen, joy did not come the next morning—or any morning—for years.

As I’ve dealt with a lifetime of recovery and other adversity, I have found that verses like Lamentations 3:23 sometimes mock my sensibilities. But taken as the entire lament of Lamentations 3, and knowing our human pattern of lament—an exhausted turn and then grateful praise—it makes sense. This is endurance. This is what God implants into us when we commit to a life with Him. He gives us Himself so that when we reach the absolute end of ourselves, the only place we can turn is back to Him. Confronted with both the reality of our circumstances and His power, we remember Him. And yet then we still can dare to hope.

An athlete may train to endure an arduous race. But to endure life, with all that we battle and with all our frequent failures? The only way we can absorb the blows, stop and complain, and dare to hope again is through the turning of the spirit of God within us. This is endurance. In our humanity endurance doesn’t last. But in God’s divinity endurance grows in our dawning realization that God can still be trusted.

Don’t mistake endurance for just sticking with it. Each time we stop and turn back to Him, we are sheathed with a new layer of holy endurance. We don’t endure as much as we grow in our ability to endure. Look back at your trials and your human complaints. He was there, listening to your lament and waiting for your return to confidence in Him.

Our endurance doesn’t last. But His does.

Susan Codone, Ph.D., is the Director of the Center for Teaching & Learning and a Professor of Technical Communication at Mercer University, is a member of Ingleside Baptist Church, and has been married for to her husband George for 30 years. They have three young adult children.

***

Scripture quoted in this post is from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Charlotte Forten: A Testimony to Grace

Charlotte Forten: A Testimony to Grace

(I’ve invited friends to share their own stories of endurance or the stories of others. My prayer is that you would be inspired and encouraged as you read each guest post. Learn more about my new book: Sacred Endurance.)

By Catherine Parks

Charlotte Forten, a nineteenth-century African American activist, poet, and teacher, began keeping a journal in 1854, while attending a school in Salem, Massachusetts. She was the first black student at the Salem Normal School. As the granddaughter and daughter of people active in the abolitionist movement, she was accustomed to hearing accounts of the harsh treatment of slaves. Her fellow students, however, were from a different world.

An entry on the day after she began her journal concerned a runaway slave who had been captured and was awaiting trial:

Arrested like a criminal in the streets of [the] capital, and is now kept strictly guarded,—a double police force is required, the military are in readiness; and all this is done to prevent a man, whom God has created in his own image, from regaining that freedom with which, he, in common with every other human being, is endowed.

The African American community in Boston and surrounding areas waited in trepidation for the trial, only to be devastated when the enslaved man was convicted and returned to his master to be subjected to unimaginable harshness. In the aftermath of these events, Forten’s journal records her lament over the lack of empathy and understanding from others around her, especially pastors. She recognized that her fellow students didn’t see why she felt this response pained her so deeply. But Forten resolved to work harder so she could “change the condition of my oppressed and suffering people.”

One of the most striking parts of this teenager’s journal deals with her inner turmoil over seeking to follow Christ in her circumstances and her struggle to love her enemies, a timeless battle still felt today in the face of oppression and suffering:

I have been thinking lately very much about death, —that strange, mysterious, awful reality, that is constantly around and among us, that power which takes away from us so many of those whom we love and honor, or those who have persecuted and oppressed us, our bitter enemies whom we vainly endeavor not to hate. Oh! I long to be good, to be able to meet death calmly and fearlessly, strong in faith and holiness. But this I know can only be through One who died for us, through the pure and perfect love of Him, who was all holiness and love. But how can I hope to be worthy of His love while I still cherish this feeling towards my enemies, this unforgiving spirit? This is a question which I ask myself very often. Other things in comparison with this seem easy to overcome. But hatred of oppression seems to be so blended with hatred of the oppressor I cannot separate them. I feel that no other injury could be so hard to bear, so very hard to forgive, as that inflicted by cruel oppression and prejudice. How can I be a Christian when so many in common with myself, for no crime suffer so cruelly, so unjustly? It seems in vain to try, even to hope. And yet I still long to resemble Him in the last degree, for I know that it must be so ‘ere I can accomplish anything that is really good and useful in life.

 Seeing the treatment of her fellow man by many who claimed Christ and used the very Bible she read and loved to defend slavery, Forten could have turned away. But her faith was not owned by her oppressors; it was the faith of her father and mother and many who had gone before her, and it was her faith, hard-won and dependent on Christ. Yet this doesn’t mean it was easy. Looking around at her world, she frequently felt helpless and close to despair:

But oh, how inexpressibly bitter and agonizing it is to feel oneself an outcast from the rest of mankind, as we are in this country! To me it is dreadful, dreadful. Were I to indulge in the thought I fear I should become insane. But I do not despair. I will not despair; though very often I can hardly help doing so. God help us! We are indeed a wretched people. Oh, that I could do much towards bettering our condition. I will do all, all the very little that lies in my power, while life and strength last!

And Forten endured in this passionate goal, breaking barriers to lift others up and serve them throughout her lifetime. She eventually became the first African American teacher hired to teach white students in a Salem public school. And later, as part of the Port Royal Experiment in the Sea Islands of South Carolina, Forten became the first black teacher to teach at the Penn School on St. Helena’s Island, spending her days teaching children newly freed from slavery and her nights teaching their parents and other former slaves from the plantations. Her journals of this time in South Carolina were printed in the Atlantic in 1864.

Before her marriage in 1878, Forten worked as a high school teacher and then as a clerk in the US Treasury Department in Washington, DC. She continued her efforts in charity and education after her marriage to Presbyterian minister Francis J. Grimké, who pastored the prominent African American congregation of Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in DC.

Charlotte Forten Grimké’s life is a testament to the grace of God and the desire He gave her to love others, as she wrote in her journal in her early twenties and continued to do so until her death in 1914:

I ask thee, Oh! Heavenly Father! To make me truly unselfish, to give to me a heart-felt interest in the welfare of others; —a spirit willing to sacrifice my own; —to live “for the good that I can do!”

Catherine Parks is a writer and Bible teacher who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, two children, and a cute dog named Ollivander. She’s the author of four books, including Empowered and Strong, collections of Christian biographies for middle-grade readers. You can find more of her writing at www.cathparks.com.

 

Getting Real in Your Relationships

Getting Real in Your Relationships

(Today I get to share with you the foreword I wrote for my friend’s excellent book Real: The Surprising Secret to Deeper Friendships. Make sure to check out the trailer and links to learn more about Catherine Parks and her new book. )

I’ve always had a sensitive conscience: even before I became a Christian, I would confess wrongdoing to my parents. Vulnerability was never difficult for me when I was younger.

Oddly, once I became a Christian, I started to become more aware of how I would be viewed by others, and that vulnerability all of a sudden felt much more risky. I was 22 and wanted to be accepted. But God was gracious to me and gave me two friends, two accountability partners, two people serious about God and eager for true and honest fellowship.

My two close friends and I did accountability consistently for several years (and even to this day, one of them and I will catch up as if those college and single years aren’t long gone). We would meet every other Friday afternoon. Our times together would consist of eating spaghetti, confession, encouragement, and prayers. We cried and laughed and shared the most intimate parts of ourselves. We were honest and open, often sharing things that might even make one blush with embarrassment.

Those formative years in my Christian walk were priceless. I learned the gift that is repentance and that I could bring anything before my heavenly Father. God was and remains incredibly approachable to me, because I know that if I confess my sin, he is faithful and just to forgive me and purify me (1 John 1 v 9). I know that I can come before his throne of grace and receive mercy and help in my time of need (Hebrews 4 v 16).

God also used those relationships to solidify my view of the church as a family. I knew that my friends and I weren’t simply three girls pouring out our hearts to one another. We were, and still are, sisters—co-heirs with Christ! Relationships in the church are essential for our walk with him. I know this because there were times when I wasn’t sure if I could walk the walk of faith. God used those relationships to keep me from wandering off course. Those sisters were in the race, in the fight, or—as my friend Catherine Parks has written here—on my team.

Those college friendships expanded beyond college into our single years and then through the beginning of our marriages. But as many of our stories go, two of us ended up moving away, beginning a search for new, deep relationships in our new homes.

RealamazonimageIn walks Catherine.

When I moved to the Nashville area, I knew that the only way for me to truly settle in and make our new location feel like home was to (1) find a church and commit to it and (2) find some friends and begin to build deep and true relationships. The Lord was faithful in both cases. I had known of Catherine Parks via her online articles and book. I reached out to her to see if we could meet up, and it was one of the best decisions I could have made.

Catherine and I hit it off quickly and easily. I don’t remember all that we talked about, but I do remember going from “Nice to meet you” to “Let’s confess our sins” within a matter of a few hangouts (it may have even been our first!). I’m not good with surface-level conversations, so I dove right in. It was something I was used to; but it wasn’t necessarily Catherine’s default. Yet she made sure to let me know that for her, it was good and challenging to think beyond the surface and resist the urge to give coined answers of “I’m fine.”

I share this with you because I am both a reader and an author. As a reader, I want to know that the author is authentic and can write with at least a measure of authority on the topic; and as I’m a Christian reader, it’s even more assuring when I know that the author has integrity. Catherine has walked out and wrestled with the truth that she writes about in Real. She isn’t writing from a place of superiority or as someone who has arrived. Rather, Catherine is a fellow sojourner in the faith, on a mission to finish the race well. Confession, repentance, and being real are essential in that goal.

In Real you will find wise counsel, biblical exposition, and personal stories that will inspire, encourage, and challenge you as you seek to be honest with yourself and with those around you. We will learn the futility of chasing after what we think we want versus the value of chasing after what is right. We will learn to face our sin for what it is. No excuses. No defending.

But Catherine doesn’t leave us to wallow in condemnation and self-pity. That isn’t the point of confession, nor is it the goal of repentance. It is indeed God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2 v 4). God’s word tells us that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1 v 9). We can trust that God will do as he says—he meets our sin with forgiveness and grace. As Catherine has written, “When we’re assured of our Father’s forgiveness, instead of covering up in front of others, we can confess—be honest about our sin” (p 31).

We will never outgrow this message of grace and repentance. And we will never outgrow our need for one another. Whether you have a core group of friends who are thriving and already committed to seeking Jesus together, or the concept of confession is absolutely new to you, this book is for you. Anyone at any stage will benefit from the pages ahead.

Visit Catherine at her site: http://www.cathparks.com/

Purchase Real: Amazon, The Good Book Company

Book Club Intro to Spiritual Healthcheck

Book Club Intro to Spiritual Healthcheck

(Special note: if you are reading this via your email, you must click through to my website to watch the video. You can click here or at the link towards the end of the email.)

Today we begin our six-week video book study through Spiritual Healthcheck by Carl Laferton.

Are you ready to move beyond “I’m fine?”

Read the intro and Chapter 1 to learn more.

What you’ll find on the video:

  1. A brief introduction to the book and why we are studying it. What exactly does it mean to be spiritually healthy?
  2. Thoughts on how and why we can be honest about how we are doing.
  3. Brief reflections on Romans 8: 28-31.
  4. A reminder of why you and I desire to be conformed to the image of Christ and where our strength for the fight comes from.

Please note that because this was an introduction, the length of the video is slightly longer than future videos. Expect to join me for about 5 minutes each Thursday.

A Book Giveaway!

To help you get started, the Good Book Company has partnered with me to giveaway three e-books! All you need to do is comment on my site or on my Facebook page. That’s it. Simply comment below or comment on my Facebook page and you’ll be entered into the giveaway!

The Spiritual Healthcheck giveaway ends at noon on Friday, January 12. A

Bonus video!

Take a moment to hear from Carl! 

Enjoying the Pastoral Prayer

Enjoying the Pastoral Prayer

(Enjoying God and all He has given to us can be difficult to understand and abstract at times. That’s why I’ve asked a few friends to share how they have enjoyed various aspects of the Christian life, seasons, and disciplines. I pray you are encouraged by this series of guest posts.)

“Let’s pray.”

With these words, the pastor in the pulpit bows his head and everyone in the pews around me does the same. What follows is pretty unspectacular. A roomful of people close their eyes. Their pastor speaks words of praise and thanksgiving, of confession and repentance, of desire and supplication. It might last for five or ten or fifteen minutes. There is no music. No movement. No sound except the voice of one man and the quiet “Amens” from the congregation.

This hardly seems like a high point in the worship service. And, I admit, I haven’t always enjoyed it.

As a child, I squirmed and daydreamed through many pastoral prayers. As a teenager, I slept through a handful. Even as an adult, I find my mind wandering and my heart cooling more often than I would like to confess. At such times, the week’s calendar or the prospect of lunch seem more compelling and delightful than sitting in church with my head bowed.

But, Sunday after Sunday, I must remind myself that these moments of prayer are much more than they seem to my myopic human eyes. The pastoral prayer is not a passive interlude. It’s not a serene intermission for the congregation to catch its breath. It’s far from boring.

It’s work. And it’s war.

When I was a teenager, I lived for a while in the Scottish Highlands. I’ll never forget my first Sunday in the village church: as the pastor began to pray, the entire congregation rose to its feet. We were not listening to the prayer. We were praying. The pastor was the mouthpiece—he gave words to our desires—but we all joined our hearts before the Throne of God.

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John pulls back the curtain of heaven so that we might see what our prayers look like from God’s perspective. John writes:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:3-5)

This picture looks nothing like the quiet, unspectacular ten minutes we experience every Sunday morning. Incense. Fire. Thunder. Lightening. Earthquake. In the words of one commentator, “the prayers of the saints and the fire of God move the whole course of the world.”

Elsewhere in Scripture, we read that by our prayers God’s people escape temptation and find deliverance from evil (Matt. 6:13). By our prayers, Satan’s subjects surrender and his demons admit defeat (Mark 9:29). And by our prayers, the gospel of Christ secures victory in people’s hearts (2 Thess. 3:1).

When ordinary people bow their heads in the wobbly pews of a nondescript church building on any Sunday morning, their prayers are used by God to accomplish his great purposes.

Enjoying the pastoral prayer, then, means that we see ourselves not as passive listeners to someone else’s prayer but as active members of a praying army, boldly approaching the very Throne of God. It means that we cherish the invitation to join with our brothers and sisters in this important work. It means that we learn to delight in what God will do as we pray together.

MeganHill-1Megan Hill is a pastor’s wife and writer living in Massachusetts. She is the author of Praying Together (Crossway 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

(Learn more about Trillia’s new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts)

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