Worth the wait

First-year cadets at the service academies are expected to know the number of days until graduation for themselves and the three classes ahead of them. They’re expected to recite this information anytime an upperclassman asks.

I’m not sure of the military necessity for this, but future leaders do need to learn attention to detail. They must also learn to never give up, even when something takes a long time and is very hard.

As much as I hate to wait (a lot), I admit that very few of the important things in life came to me overnight, or easily. I am willing to wait if I think what I’m waiting for is worth it.

It took 1443 days for the Air Force to make me into a 2nd lieutenant, and about 7000 more to make me into a colonel. You can go online and buy officer insignia, but without all those days, and all the things that happen in them, the insignia won’t tell the truth of who you are.

It’s the same when it comes waiting on God. Most of us would rather not. But if we let him, God will make us into the persons he created us to be. How long that will take, we will never know.

But we can be sure it will be worth the wait.

Humble visitor

Thirty-three years ago, a young man from China visited the small farm town of Muscatine, Iowa on an agricultural research trip. He stayed with Eleanor and Thomas Dvorchak, a farm family whose sons had gone off to college. He slept in the boys’ room, still filled with the memories of childhood. Eleanor said he didn’t complain. “Everything, no matter what, was very acceptable to him. He was humble.”

Four years ago, that same man, no longer young, came back to see his old friends. This time he came with an entourage. The man was Xi Jinping, then China’s vice president, and on his way to being president of the most populous nation on the planet.

Chinese officials explained that Mr. Xi wanted to relive a pleasant experience from his past and reconnect with old friends. Some thought it might be propaganda for the Chinese government at a time when tensions between the US and China were high. But no one in Muscatine cared. The New York Times said, “What was in 1985 just ordinary Iowa niceness came boomeranging back.”

This week in our church, we renew our relationship with PRISM, Pittsburgh Region International Student Ministries. Pittsburgh is host to thousands of international students, many of them the best and brightest from their respective countries. PRISM wants to welcome them all and share with them the love of Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity to be part of it. It’s not only rewarding and fun, but it’s got to be one of the most effective types of mission there is.

What if our international guests went home with more than happy memories of their time in Pittsburgh. What if they went home as ambassadors for Jesus Christ?

There is a God. I’m not him.

The movie Rudy is about a young man who does everything in his power to be accepted into Notre Dame. He tries for years but is turned down time after time. Desperate, Rudy goes to church to see his mentor, Father Cavanaugh.

Father Cavanaugh says, “You did a helluva job, kid, chasing down your dream.” Rudy replies, “I don’t care what kind of a job I did. If it doesn’t produce results, it doesn’t mean anything. Father Cavanaugh replies, “I think you’ll discover that it will.”

Rudy said, “Maybe I haven’t prayed enough.”

The priest replied, “I’m sure that’s not the problem. Praying is something we do in our time. The answers come in God’s time.”

“Have I done everything I possibly can?” Rudy pleads. “Can you help me?”

Father Cavanaugh replies, “In 35 years of religious studies, I’ve come up with only two incontrovertible facts. There is a God, and I’m not him.”

For Lent I’m preaching through the short Old Testament prophecy of Habakkuk. Habakkuk is often overlooked, and I think I know why. We expect God to answer our prayers in our time and in a way that makes sense to us. Habakkuk saw violence and injustice all around. The “system” was broken from the top down.

Habakkuk discovered that answers come in God’s time.

If we could have a conversation with God, like Habakkuk did, we would ask the same questions he asks.

The first part of Habakkuk’s prophecy asks us, “If God never answers in our time, or in way that never makes sense to us, is it possible for us to be OK? Is it possible to be OK just knowing that God is God?”

Repent? Who, me?

A school district took away jump ropes. Kids could still jump rope, but without the rope. It seems that jumping rope was hard for some kids. Failing might damage their self-esteem.

For two decades, psychotherapy has been in decline, despite research that it really works to promote patients’ mental health. The reasons for the decline are complex, such as the increased use of medications, but here’s the thing: psychotherapy involves long, hard work facing our own issues. Most people blame others for their problems. Psychotherapists used to see patients who were unhappy and wanted to understand themselves. Now, more patients want someone else to change. Fewer people say, “I want to change myself.”

It would seem that Ash Wednesday and repentance are out of touch with the times. That’s too bad, because repentance allows you to face the evil that you’ve done without the guilt crushing you.

The classic case study in repentance is the parable of the prodigal son. A young son took his share of his father’s wealth, left home, and squandered his wealth in wild living. When his life had fallen totally apart, he resolved to go home and work his way back into his father’s good graces. That was the first part of repentance—turning from his old way of life and heading home.

While the son was still a long way off, his father ran to him and kissed him. Instead of giving him the punishment he deserved, he welcomed him back as his son. When the son experienced the radical love of his father, he fully repented. In that moment he had access to all the father’s love and riches.

Repentance is like a key which unlocks our own hearts and allows the love of the father to flow into us. True repentance isn’t about feeling guilty for what we’ve done; just the opposite. True repentance is about joy.

The father, who represents God in the parable, didn’t give his son what he deserved.  He transferred the son’s guilt and humiliation to himself. Real repentance is turning away from an old way of life and accepting God’s love.

Supernatural experience

This week is Transfiguration Sunday. Pastor Dan will be reflecting on an unusual event where Jesus led his inner circle of disciples up a mountain. There his glory was revealed in a supernatural way.

What constitutes a “supernatural” experience, anyway?

In my last assignment in the Air Force, I chaired the Leadership and Ethics Department at the Air War College, a school for senior military officers. One evening, Jana and I were hosting a dinner party for our department. Our guest was Otto Kroeger, a nationally-known expert on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI is a popular personality assessment tool. For 15 years, Otto had lectured at the War College helping senior leaders better understand themselves, their families, and each other.

Otto told me that I should become a pastor when I retired from the Air Force. I was shocked. It was the first time anyone had suggested that. I’d always assumed that pastors had to have some kind of “supernatural,” “burning bush,” experience.

In my case, Otto knew my personality “type.” I’d spent a week at his school learning about the MBTI. A lot of ministers have a similar type.


Two years later, I started seminary.

Most pastors I know haven’t had a “supernatural” experience that led them to ministry, though some have. God leads some through a yearning they can’t ignore. For others, one career door closes and another opens.

The truth is, all of life is “supernatural.” God upholds everything, everywhere, every minute. God is at work in you and me right now.

But we don’t spend enough time in the scriptures, in prayer, or in church.

We’re not attuned to the “supernatural.”

Soul satisfying joy

One of the women who testified at the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the US Women’s Gymnastics team doctor who abused dozens of young women, was former gymnast Rachel Denhollander. She was the first to bring the abuses to light, and her courage inspired others to come forward.

But in the midst of sharing her horrific story, Rachel shared her faith: Because God exists, there is right and wrong. Because God is just, we can recognize evil and stand against it.

Then Rachel said this to Nassar: “I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from, and I pity you for it.”

Amid the darkness of abuse and fear and pain, there is still light. There is a God of love, who is love, who made us for love; to love each other and to love him. And not just love. God created us to experience deep, soul-satisfying joy, tenderness, and care. And yes, even glory and ecstasy.

In the creation story, God put the man to sleep, pulled out a rib, and fashioned the woman. The woman was created from the man, but the man wasn’t complete until the woman was complete.

Do you see? God designed us to experience his love, joy, tenderness, care, ecstasy, and even his glory, through each other.