Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

It has been a pleasure to participate in some very vital discussions this year, as well as to interact with so many of you who honor me by making your presence known at joelrainey.com. I look forward to more analysis, dialogue, discussion, debate, and "iron-sharpening" exercise in 2007. For now, I'm off to spend two weeks with my wonderful family for the holidays. I pray God's blessings on you, and wish you the best in the coming season!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Waiting for Christmas

All of us find that certain Biblical commands are easier to obey than others. Personally, I have never struggled with the "active" commands of Scripture . . . ."GO" "TEACH" "BAPTIZE" "PREACH" are divine calls to which I almost always respond in the right way. But recently, I have been struggling in my efforts to obey the more "passive" commands of Scripture. God created me with a high-D personality and leadership style hard-wired into my consciousness. As such, commands like "WAIT" "BE QUIET" and "BE STILL" are more difficult for me. But this week, I have found a model for such patience in Luke 2.

The story of Simeon is one of those tales that, if televised, would likely be relegated to the Hallmark Channel and never seen as a "Christmas classic." While most pastors will spend the perfunctory amount of time in the first part of Luke 2 this Christmas, this second part of the chapter is often overlooked. Still, Simeon's ability to wait on God amazes me. Verse 25 states that he was "righteous" and "devout," and that this righteous devotion was manifest in the way that he waited. His life really matched what he professed to believe. God had told him years earlier that he would not die before bearing witness to the Messiah with his own eyes, and with strong faith, Simeon clings to this promise . . . .by waiting!

Within one month of Jesus' birth, Simeon experiences God's fulfilled promise. Joseph and Mary, two blue-collar, lower-middle-class parents, bring their newborn son into the temple in Jerusalem according to the custom of the law. At this point, Simeon has been waiting for decades, and his excitement over being able to finally see the Christ-child is evident to anyone in the temple that day. As he takes the infant in his arms, he exclaims:

Now Master, You can dismiss your slave in peace according to your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation. (Luke 2:29-20 HCSB)

This was the last thing Simeon was waiting for before his death, and throughout decades of waiting, he never gave up. God loves faith like that . . . .faith that hangs on . . . .faith that is willing to wait. But we aren't part of a culture that sees value in waiting. We want instant gratification. In a society dominated by drive-thru lanes, microwaves, TiVO, and 24-hour service, waiting isn't a virtue, its a weakness! If you are waiting, its because you weren't assertive enough, or didn't demand enough.

Perhaps this is why it is such a struggle for guys like me to submit to God in this way. But if I am able to wait, I learn that God keeps His promises. Simeon waited for decades. But in truth, Simeon's people had been waiting for several millenia! The promise Simeon saw was made as early as Genesis 3:15, and restated in Genesis 12, Genesis 17, 2 Samuel 7, Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 53, Zechariah . . . .you get the picture. God allowed centuries to pass before making good on His promise. But in the end, He always keeps them.

But waiting on the fulfillment of God's promise isn't something we do naturally, which is why Luke emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in Simeon's life no less than three times in this passage. The Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit revealed truth to him. The Holy Spirit guided him. And the Holy Spirit helped him to wait.

Without the Holy Spirit, we can't wait. We will jump the gun. We will try to get ahead of where God is working. And we will fail. The Old Testament is full of accounts of men who would not wait on God's promises and failed. For Abraham, it was the conception of Ishmael by Hagar. For Saul, it was the consulting of a medium. For Moses, it was simply striking a rock in anger. But the result of refusing to wait is always the same: sin, shame, hurt, and devastation.

But there are others who did wait on God: Elisha, Job, Nehemiah, Paul. Elisha was protected by an unseen yet innumerable army (2 Kings 6), but not before being faced with the army of Aram. Job was given back double what was taken from him (Job 42), but not before he lost everything most precious to him. Nehemiah saw the completion of the walls around Jerusalem, but not before facing strong opposition from the Samaritans. Paul was able to witness the spread of the Gospel throughout the entire Roman Empire, but was also forbidden by God from entering Asia.

Life doesn't give us a lot of green lights. More often than not, God doesn't say "you can have it now." Most often, he says "you must wait," and then uses the process of waiting to make us into the kind of people He wants us to be . . . .and this drives me crazy!

I'm an active guy. I like to move. I like to work. I like to play. And I like doing all of these things with intensity. Waiting has never been on my list of favorite things to do. But this Christmas, God is working on me by having me wait. Perhaps this is true for some who are reading as well. If so, know that if you give up, you will never know how truly close you were to seeing the fulfillment of His promises to you.

Picture Simeon getting up on the morning of Jesus' dedication, murmuring to himself "I've been waiting on this for 40 years. Is it ever going to happen?" Meanwhile, the Messiah is in town, and his parents are on their way to see Simeon at this very moment.

God's promises and God's answers are closer than you think, because God is closer than you think. If you refuse to wait on Him, you might very well forfeit everything. So this Christmas, be still, be quiet, and wait on the Lord. You won't be sorry!