Category Archives: patience

How this preacher got a bit more mellow

One of the handy things about being a preacher for 36 years is that often my current sermon text is one I’ve preached on before. Sometimes I can harvest ideas from the old sermon. Sometimes I’m appalled at how I said things, and marvel at the grace the congregation showed a young preacher! The most fun is when I find personal anecdotes that flood me with memories.

Last Sunday I preached on Hebrews 10:23-39. Back in the mid 1980’s, when April was two years old and Rachel a few months old, I had preached on verses 36-37 about persevering in doing God’s will because in just a little while Jesus is coming and will not delay. That sermon manuscript had an anecdote that is especially vivid now that our family has two grandchildren under four months! It’s something that had happened the day before.

On Friday afternoon April developed a fever. She cried off and on all night and all yesterday. (I’ll spare you the details. Imagine the worst possible scenario, and you got it!) In the middle of all that, at one point, I was holding Rachel. I went outside with her, kicking the screen door open. I had to get away from it all. I was saying, “Lord, I’m supposed to be calm, filled with love?!”

One of the things God said to me (since that week I had been mulling over this Scripture which talked about Christ coming again ‘in just a very little while’) was, “If you knew I was coming in an hour, how that would that affect your attitude? How important would your comfort be? Or would you focus on doing as much as you could to please me?”

This preacher is of course older, wiser, more mellow, more mature now. A bit! Some of what helps keep such meltdowns away nowadays is that delightful status called grandparenthood where Karen & I get to send our grandsons home to their parents at night! But some of it, hopefully, is an ability to step outside of my present emotions and to look to my values, to the person I want to be: not one who is selfish and angry and destructive but one who loves and nurtures those around me because Jesus is Lord and I am choosing to live like Jesus and please him. One day I will stand before Christ the King and give account of my life. I want to be aware of that eternal dimension and make daily choices in light of it. Bit by bit I’m letting that future transform my present.

Waiting for God to open our rosebuds

A young man had been invited into an old preacher’s flower garden. Unsure about what God was calling him to do next, he was seeking the older man’s wisdom. His host walked up to a rosebush, took a bud, and told him to open it without tearing off any petals.

The younger glanced quizzically at the older, but proceeded to try to unfold the rose while keeping every petal intact. It wasn’t long before it was obvious how impossible it was. The old preacher began to recite a poem, “Unfolding the Rosebud.”

It is only a tiny rosebud,

A flower of God’s design;

But I cannot unfold the petals

With these clumsy hands of mine.

The secret of unfolding flowers

Is not known to you and I.

God opens this flower so sweetly,

When in my hands they fade and die.

If I cannot unfold a rosebud,

This flower of God’s design,

Then how can I think I have wisdom

To unfold this life of mine?

So I’ll trust in God for His leading

Each moment of every day.

I will look to God for His guidance

Each step of the pilgrim way.

The pathway that lies before me,

Only my Heavenly Father knows.

I’ll trust God to unfold the moments,

Just as He unfolds the rose.

I retell this internet story and its “author unknown” poem because it captures something that the Spirit is still trying to teach me. I’m no longer a young man trying to force the unfolding of my life. But I am far too often still trying to force the unfolding of what I want to have happen. In restless anxiety and presumption, I press my plans or my understanding on others. Especially when talking to someone on a topic of deep disagreement. But I am beginning to realize that I am to do what I can in peace and love. And then wait. God will unfold the bud into the flower at the right time!

Learning patience from the Early Church

Last weekend Karen and I were at Virginia Mennonite Conference’s retreat for pastors and spouses at Williamsburg. It was a refreshing and restorative time — except for missing the usual delight of this retreat: the sights and sounds and smells of early Spring as we walk the retreat center’s many trails. Instead the grounds had 6-8 inches of snow with no noticeable melting while we were there. We did savor lots of good conversation and networking with others there, and also enjoyed moving times of worship (led this year by our congregation’s overseer, Mike Shenk).

Most of all, we benefited from four teaching sessions by Alan Kreider on the Early Church from ca. 150 to ca. 350, looking at many of their texts and practices, seeing what we can glean from them. That church, like all churches since then, had its flaws; their writings are not Scripture! But that church community does have a peculiar authority. They are our mother — all branches of the Christian Church trace back to them. They are early and therefore closer to Jesus and the Apostles than any other church. And they grew at a rate of 40% per decade!

Perhaps this struck me most: there was no topic on which the Early Church wrote more treatises (small books) than patience. As Alan unpacked this for us, I found it a marvelous new window into Christian faith and life:

  • Patience means not needing to make others do what we want. We can love them without having to control or manipulate them.
  • Patience shows hope; we wait because we confidently entrust the future to God. We can take risks (eg. care for the sick in an epidemic; share food with ones who are hungry even when tomorrow’s bread is uncertain) because we await the resurrection.
  • Patience is the power to persevere, to endure to the end.
  • God is the exemplar of patience, gracious to the ungrateful, giving time for sinners to repent, waiting until the fullness of time to present Jesus.
  • The Fall was due to impatience: Adam and Eve tried to grab pleasure and wisdom rather than letting God give those things.
  • Patience is being non-violent; it accepts injury without retaliating in kind. Vengeance is left to God.
  • Patience gives religious freedom; rather than forcing issues, those who are patient teach and show the truth and then give it time to bear fruit.