Want Some Patience? Get in Line.

There are times in my life when I am the model of the virtue known as patience. Those times have a name: “The Exception.”

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A photo I took at SDC.

Some people describe me as calm and easy going, but they just don’t know me well enough. Patience is an area where I definitely need some spiritual growth. And because I need it, God seems eager to provide opportunities for that growth.

Two or three times a year, for instance, my wife and I make the 100-mile drive through the Ozarks Mountains for a visit to Silver Dollar City.

If you’ve ever traveled to the Branson, Mo., area, you know that traffic is, shall we say, … an issue. It’s a mountainous area with limited options for getting from one place to another, and millions of tourists flock there each year for shopping, live theater shows, water sports, golf, and, of course, to visit the Silver Dollar City theme park. The roads simply can’t keep up with the driving needs of roughly 8 million visitors a year.

The actual population of Branson is around 10,000, but on any given day there are 100,000 people in town. And on the days we go, all 100,000 of them seem to get in line right in front of us.

It starts with the drive in. It takes a little less than two hours to drive the first 98 miles from our home to the parking lot at Silver Dollar City. The last two miles? That’s usually around 45 minutes. When we went last week, it took 75 minutes to cover that short stretch.

This, of course, is a warm up. If you don’t have tickets, you stand in line to get them. Then you stand in line to enter the park. Once inside, you stand in line for the shows. You stand in line for the major rides. You stand in line for food. You stand in line to stand in line.

In short, Silver Dollar City is a ton of short bursts of fun sandwiched around multiple opportunities to learn and practice patience.

Proverbs 19:11 says wisdom yields patience, and Jesus surely needed patience as He grew in wisdom. If it’s hard for me to put up with a 45-minute wait to get soaking wet on a rubber raft ride, imagine how hard it would be for a perfect God to put up with a history filled with people who are habitually selfish, prideful sinners and who can’t make it 10 seconds without messing up. You think Jesus was just a little frustrated His disciples kept falling asleep when they were supposed to be praying with Him?

Yet, there are no fewer than seven verses in the Old Testament that describe God as “compassionate and gracious … slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Exodus 34:6, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2) You see patience described in figures like Job and Abraham (he was 100 years old when God delivered on the promise to make him father). Paul talked about patience over and over. He described in verses like 1 Corinthians 13:4 and advocated for it in verses like Romans 12:12. The wisdom books like Proverbs, Psalms and James all preach the importance of patience.

So after reading and reflecting on many of those verses, here’s some of the wisdom I to absorb when it comes to patience:

We live in a me-first, hurry-up world, but we’re called to display endurance. The rewards of it are always worth the wait.

 

How to Revive Your Dry Bones

Ezekiel lived during difficult times. He was a Judean priest living in exile in Babylon, and the people he was called to lead were spiritually dead. What happens when we stop growing? We die. And sometimes we die even when, in the physical sense, we’re still living.

Dry bones.

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FreeImages.com

That’s the description we see of the people of Israel in Ezekiel 37.  God gives the prophet a vision. He’s standing in the middle of a valley filled with “bones that were very dry” and God asks him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel’s response: “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (Ezekiel 37:2-3)

Most of us go through phases where our life seems very much like the bones in that valley. Dry and brittle. No joy. No vitality. No growth. Our spiritual life is held in captivity, even if we’re not in Babylon.

What to do?

In Ezekiel’s vision, God commands him to speak prophesies that bring those dead bones to life. Then He promises to do the same for the people of Israel. And, of course, he did.

He does that for us, as well.

When Fred Luter served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, he preached a powerful sermon on the denomination’s need to revive its collective dry bones. My wife and I were fortunate enough to hear a version of that sermon last year when we were in New Orleans and spent a Sunday morning at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, where Luter pastors. (Here’s one version of that sermon.)

Luter offers four keys to reviving dry bones based on Ezekiel’s text. Here the are, with my commentary thrown in at no extra charge:

  • Admit your bones are dry. Stop pretending things are OK, when they are not. Ask yourself if you have the same fire for the Lord you had when you first received His grace. If your bones are dry, you likely feel it. You just have to admit it.
  • Hear the Word of God. Get back into the Bible. Your bones won’t revive by reading the newspaper or the Internet or this blog, but only by reading the Word of God.
  • Respond to the Word of God. Don’t just read the Word, live it. Don’t just sit in a pew, live out the message you hear. Get up and be a doer of the Word of God.
  • Be filled with the Spirit of God. You receive the Spirit of God at salvation, but you can be revived and strengthen daily when you allow the Spirit to fill you and guide you.

Dry bones don’t grow like Jesus. They collect dust or become chew toys for dogs. We weren’t created to be a dog toy. We were created to grow like Jesus.

Insights into a Noble Character

There are times when I want to be a model wife.

Don’t take that the wrong way. I’m not going all Bruce Jenner on you. I’m very happy with the way God made me, thank you very much. But there’s something to be said for the qualities you find in a Godly wife – qualities I’d like to grow myself.shadows-1437332-639x402

I was thinking about this because Sunday was Mother’s Day, and it reminded me how much I value the character traits my mother has grown and shown through the years. They are many of the same character traits I see in my wonderful wife. And that I see growing in my three daughters, my daughter-in-law, my wife’s two daughters, and my wife’s daughter-in-law.

They are the traits of a noble character.

My mom, my wife, all of these daughters … they are Proverbs 31 women. And that makes them rare and “worth far more than rubies.”

I looked back at those 21 verses (Proverbs 31:10-31) that serve as the epilogue for a book on wisdom, and here are some reasons a wife of noble character is so rare and valuable:

  • She inspires confidence. (vv. 11, 28)
  • She serves others. (vv. 12, 15, 21)
  • She takes care of herself. (vv. 22, 25)
  • She’s smart and makes wise choices. (vv. 16, 24, 26)
  • She works hard on the right things. (vv. 16, 18, 24)
  • She’s not lazy. (vv. 15, 17, 27)
  • She gives to those in need. (vv. 15, 20)
  • She’s faithful to God’s Word. (vv. 26)
  • She makes others look good. (vv. 23)
  • She fears the Lord. (vv. 30)

I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s all stuff to which I aspire as I struggle to grow like Jesus.

And listen to how people respond to this type of woman: “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ … Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (vv. 28-29, 31)

Who are the Proverbs 31 women in your life? And how are you honoring them, not just on one day each year but at every opportunity?

Fruits of a Jamaican Church Plant

What happens when followers of Jesus grow like Jesus? The church grows for Jesus.

Allow me to share an example …

Last weekend I went on a business trip to Jamaica. I know, it’s a tough life, but somebody had to do it, right? I got this call from a client who wanted me to shadow a film crew doing a commercial with track star Usain Bolt. I would spend a few days in and around Kingston, including a 15-minute interview with Bolt, and then write a series of stories about it for the product’s US website (Enertor.com).

photo credit: jamaica-march-2013-007 via photopin (license)
photo credit: jamaica-march-2013-007 via photopin (license)

Audrey was able to take a little time off from work to go with me, and she entertained herself while I was working. When we travel over a weekend, we try to visit a local church. One, we believe in the value of regular corporate worship with other followers of Jesus. Two, we enjoy and learn from experiencing worship and teaching in settings that are very different from our home church.

One of the options Audrey found online was Bethel Baptist Church, so we asked the hotel staff about it. When the front desk clerk seemed clueless, a waiter stepped in and confirmed that it was close – a short cab ride – and a very good option.  So off we went.

The worship center seats about 200 people, and the church holds three services each Sunday. In other words, it’s Jamaica’s version of a megachurch. There’s no air conditioning, but the side walls are all open windows so the breeze can flow through and large fans are mounted around the room. We found a seat near one, and settled in for the next two hours (this ain’t America, folks!).

We enjoyed the message – Rev. Burchell Taylor taught on 1 John 5:1-5 and how faith is our victory – but the other thing that jumped out at me was the life of this church.

Charles McCullough, a pastor from America, helped launch the church in 1954 with 20 members, and then moved back to the States three years later. In other words, he planted, many others watered, and the church began to grow, grow, grow.

On the day we visited, Taylor was celebrating 46 years as the pastor, but there were no signs that he or the church had lost their focus on growth. Their timeline – past and present – is full of partnerships with other churches and organizations, church plants and evangelism around the island, and social and spiritual ministries to the people of Kingston.

Bethel clearly has a focus on growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man – for each person and as a church body. It’s Luke 2:52 in action.

The visit reminded me that growth never happens unless something is planted and nurtured. We all play a role in that, for ourselves and for those around us. When we grow like Jesus, His church grows in ways that impact our community and the world around us. And who knows what fruit that growth might produce in the decades and decades to come, even long after we’re gone?

Note: Planting seeds is sometimes dangerous work. When we returned home, we read about the deaths of Harold Nichols and Randy Hentzel, two missionaries who had been working in Jamaica since 2002 with TEAMS for Medical Missions. “I don’t ever want anything portrayed that Jamaica is a terrible place,” Nichols’ wife Teri told a CNN affiliate. “I know this is a tragedy, but tragedies happen everywhere. They’ve been really good to us.”


Note: If you haven’t read the Grow Like Jesus, why not check it out now? If you’ve read it, drop me a note and let me know what you thought about it. Also, please go to Amazon.com and rate/review it. Thanks! Stephen