Long Engagements: Longings

Have you ever felt like you swallowed your heart and now it sits in your stomach waiting for it to be regurgitated back to its rightful place? You’re left unsure whether it’s your stomach or your heart or mind that’s unsettled. Sometimes this feeling comes when I long for something; more often it comes when I long for something I’ve lost. Losing someone you love to a break-up or death or distance is what I imagine causes this feeling. For two dozen families in Connecticut as well as a family here in PA whose 16-year old son was hit by a train on his way to school, this holiday season they will be dealing with an extreme unsettling.

For the next few days, even weeks, months and hopefully not years, they will be holding their heads in their hands shedding tears and asking why. There will be denial and acceptance and feeling alone, like something is missing and even moments of hope that it all isn’t real. Their and our greatest hope in mourning loss is that there is comfort in Christ that His presence is closer than we know and that He is the only one that can always guarantee to be there. To me it’s the only hope that satisfies my longing.

The common question associated with all longing is, “How long?” Wherever there is desire, wherever there is creation groaning you will find someone along with nature itself crying out “How long?” Whether it is longing for freedom or for grief to end or for a lover or for the beloved we find this question stirred in someone’s heart or rather mind or rather stomach. What makes longing even more curious is separating its end from its beginning.

Scripture reminds me of this in 1 Peter 1. The whole chapter is amazing and talks about living in light of a heavenly inheritance but in verse 13 as if Peter is confused about his anatomy says, “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and rest your hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ not conforming yourselves to your former lusts as in your ignorance.” His only practical solution when we are sick with longing and grieving in light of various trials is to get up, get ready, try to think clearly and relax. Just don’t return to what your former sinful pleasures were for comfort. Eventually your heart will be get back to its rightful place, which is where? …Not in your chest but in His hands.

Long Engagements: Long Wait

I heard a sermon once about Jesus at the wedding Cana. It wasn’t as much about him turning water into wine as much as it was about 2 other things. 1) Jesus’ first miracle had social implications. The miracle placed the wedded couple in a glorious light by allowing the best wine to be brought out last. The bridegroom is praised for saving the best for last, though he did nothing at all. That in itself is amazing that Jesus cares about our reputation.

The second thing was a possible insight into the perspective of Jesus who at that time was a 30 year old single man at a wedding. He probably attended lots of weddings, his parables encouraged people attend them. As far as we know Jesus never married, but we do know He has been long engaged to His promised bride (the Church). The pastor suggested that Jesus may have yearned for his bride at this feast. In all ways he was tempted and can relate to us, how much more in his desire for a spotless bride. After all this whole thing concludes or rather all begins with a wedding. Yet He waits. And He has waited longer than any of us, yet none of this makes waiting any easier for me or for most people who are eager to marry.

This year more than any, I have known more people who have gotten engaged, married and are waiting to marry. All of them bearing the promise of commitment held fast by desire and love. Some lived together, some are still in college, some live alone, some willingly had long engagements, some short, and then there are those with hope deferred whether currently engaged or not. Rather than going into why, the pain, and the shaping that happens in the process today (I’ll save that for tomorrow), I need to remind myself and maybe even others of something. God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and He doesn’t want us left feeling ashamed. He wants to preserve our character before those that are closest to us.

Lastly, a few words about waiting for a long time: Nobody fully understands why we wait for something no one else desires. I don’t wait in lines on Black Friday because there is nothing I want enough to make me stay up late and wait in line, however I will and did wait in queue on Ticketmaster.com for an hour at work to buy tickets to Wrestlemania. The reason people wait for Jesus, or to marry, or to be in relationship with someone they really care about, or for a video game is due to the fact that it is something they treasure regardless of who else treasures it. I try not to question why people endure through suffering and wait long for someone they love. It’s hard for those of us to give a “satisfactory” answer. If we dared ask Jesus why, He would likely say because He is patient. Maybe you and I can be patient for things too. Yes?

Long Engagements: Long Distance

Romans 5:8-11 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us… And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

In just a few days now Jeff will marry Brandy. As he anticipates his wedding day and the joy that comes with it, he will travel a lot along the way. Between his flight to Michigan and back to PA today and then his 2-day drive from PA to Louisiana, he will have a lot of time to himself, thinking, imagining and awaiting. I imagine it no more difficult than the engagement period where much of his time he spent away from his fiancé. Working in North Dakota and New Jersey and now PA, much of his relationship developed over the phone. Several trips to Louisiana including his most recent trips for marriage counseling have provided time to form their relationship and also develop his character. And now, He and Brandy get to share in a desire of each other’s heart. Congratulations to them both!

The thing about distance though, is that love need not lessen or grow cold though it may. It’s said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It seems more true to say, that: “only in devotion to the absent one does the heart grow fonder.” Since God’s devotion to us is never in question, it leaves me asking, will I allow my devotion to Him allow my heart to be tenderized enough to be constantly fond of Him?

Much of my relationship with God feels like a long distance phone call. Some days I hear him clearly over the line and I say my yes and amen. Other days I get bad reception in the Endless Mountains of PA. For a while there it felt like I was going to be lost and lonely for an endless amount of time here. It sometimes still feels like my part in this betrothal to Jesus is me waiting powerless for him to come to marry his Bride (the Church). Worse yet sometimes I doubt He will or wants to. But then I’m reminded of that verse and the prodigal son story. When I feel a long way off, or when the chasm of heaven coming to earth still seems too great, or when I feel a great distance away from those I love or those I thought I loved, I remember Jesus’ simple invitations, to follow him, repent (return to him), draw near to Him. He promises to run to me, draw near to me, and grace me with His presence. Then love doesn’t seem so far away. In fact, sometimes it feels like it’s actually inside me.

-Jimmy

Stay tuned for the next Long Engagements Post: Long Wait.

Standing Down

The deadline is fast approaching, you’re behind schedule and the pressure is so high you can almost hear the tea-pot whistling  tempers are flaring and nobody can seem to do anything right. This is when true colors are shown. Some people have the cool head thing down pat but if you’re like me it’s not something that comes natural.

1 Peter 5:6 says “Likewise you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Cloth yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

When I was younger I had zero concept of this due to the fact that there wasn’t a single piece of information on the planet I didn’t know.

As I get older it’s tough to hold back because instead of thinking I know everything, I actually do know a couple of things and my natural inclination is to let you know how much I know and how much of it you wish you knew. Neither of these things are good and definitely don’t lead to anywhere other than the unemployment line (or doghouse).

When I first got saved I pretty much figured you could scratch the earth off of my list blessings (Matt 5:5) but as my reconstruction continues I’m learning that what Jesus actually did was bring everything into reach. Peter tells us to cloth ourselves meaning this isn’t going to be natural, it will take effort. Just like Adam had to snatch that fig leaf we need to put on our humility pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. Is it hard yeah, but it gets easier when you continue in the verse and realize that the creator of the universe is the one who opposes you (The great I AM, sword in his mouth, white horse covered in blood ring a bell?).

That’s not what it’s really about though, it’s about grace. I don’t know about you guys but if the grace that Peter is talking about here is the same grace that pulled me out of the rubble I called my life and got the Jeff project kicked off then I’m all for it.