The Ordinary Things

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By Brian Waple

As I sit here pondering what I’m going to write, it occurred to me that it is in the ordinary things that we find God. Now, this is not to say that God isn’t present in the spectacular and majestic and extraordinary—He most certainly is. But, as we go through our days, as routine as they are, we have opportunities to see God working. And we have the privilege of joining Him in those things, being present to what He is doing, and being a part of the blessing that comes from Him. And when we think about that, shouldn’t we be thankful?

I was having breakfast with my son the other day. We talked about some pretty nasty events going on in the world and how things seem to be verging on the chaotic and hopeless. As we were speaking, I was reminded that God is in all of that, the good and the bad, just as He is present in our conversation. And then it dawned on me like a lightbulb turning on—be thankful. Be thankful for the opportunity to spend the morning with my son and speak with him of things secular and spiritual; be thankful that he has a good, reliable car and is willing to do all the driving around Seattle on a wet Saturday morning (Praise God for that!); be thankful that he is happy with his life and is able to take care of himself and is respected for what he does; be thankful that Cindy and I have a weekly opportunity to spend the day with our granddaughter and be a part of her growing and developing; be thankful that she has parents who love each other; be thankful that there is no strife in my immediate family and that we get along really well. And be thankful that God loves me so much that He has blessed me with an incredible wife who cares about me, looks after me, and is willing to spend the rest of her life with me.

These are things I normally take for granted—these ordinary, some would say insignificant, non-Facebook worthy things. But they are moments when God speaks to us in the ordinary and shows us how much He loves us and how much we really are blessed. And our attitude should be one of thanks. In his book The Voice of Jesus, Gordon T. Smith writes, “Gratitude is fundamental for the Christian believer because through thanksgiving we open our hearts to the Spirit of God” (p. 85). Wouldn’t it be a shame to close our hearts off to the generous blessings of the Spirit of God simply because we refuse to be grateful?

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT). During your day, take a moment to think about how God is being present to you and blessing you in the ordinary things. And then take some time to give thanks.

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Dying

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By Brian Waple

I would like to use this Last Word to address something that we typically don’t talk about. We have brothers and sisters in our body who have experienced or are experiencing a family member’s or close friend’s death. Our Christian response is to lovingly pray for God’s comfort and peace for the individual’s family during these times of mourning and loss. But, what should be our expectations about dying?

In the Waple/Reynolds families, we have lost several loved ones over a short period of time, and it has caused me to reflect on the significance of death. I guess as you get older, you start to do this more often. One writer who has influenced my Christian life and thought is Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a beloved priest and author whose writings on the spiritual life are appreciated by those in many Christian faith traditions. Writing about dying, Nouwen had this to say:

Dying is returning home. But even though we have been told this many times by many people, we seldom desire to return home. We prefer to stay where we are. We know what we have; we do not know what we will get. Even the most appealing images of the afterlife cannot take away the fear of dying. We cling to life, even when our relationships are difficult, our economic circumstances harsh, and our health quite poor. Still, Jesus came to take the sting out of death and to help us gradually realize that we don’t have to be afraid of death, since death leads us to the place where the deepest desires of our hearts will be satisfied. It is not easy for us to truly believe that, but every little gesture of trust will bring us closer to this truth. [emphasis added]

This past Sunday, Pastor Martin spoke on desires. He addressed the desires that are driven by our natural tendencies. We (and I include myself) struggle with these desires our entire lives. But, I believe that the deep desires Nouwen alludes to, the ones we glimpse only rarely, are the ones that God has placed in us at our core from the very beginning. And I believe that as a Christian, one of our deepest desires is to be with God and know Him completely. During our lives, we strive to fulfill this desire in one way or another, but we are destined to fall short every time. It is only by passing through the mortal veil of this life that we reach a point where this deepest of desires is finally met.

So, although we will mourn the loss of those we love for the remainder of our time on earth, I believe that there is a truth about death that is helpful for us to hold in our hearts: it is only through death that God’s perfect work is completed. We can learn to be reconciled to death, because as Nouwen states, we are finally returning home, where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). And it is through death that we are finally able to live eternally, as we were created to be.

“I heard about a mansion / He has built for me in glory. / And I heard about the streets of gold / beyond the crystal sea; / about the angels singing, / and the old redemption story, / and some sweet day I’ll sing up there / the song of victory.” (“Victory in Jesus,” E. M. Bartlett)

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A Place of Quiet

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By Brian Waple

“One day soon afterward (following the healing of a man on the Sabbath) Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night” (Luke 6:12, NLT). One of the things that strikes me about Jesus is how critical it was for Him to spend time alone with His Father. I think He did this for a couple of reasons. One, with all the time spent giving to others, He needed space to withdraw and be refreshed. And two, He needed that one-on-one time with His source of renewal and inspiration. “So Jesus explained, ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does’” (John 5:19, NLT).

As we learn to grow in more intimate relationship with God, we find that we long for those times of solitude when we can be inspired and renewed by what the Father is doing. Like Jesus, we must take time to withdraw from the demands of our busy lives and focus our attention on being attentive to God’s presence. It is only when we can remove ourselves from the distractions of life that we are able to present ourselves fully to God. And as we make ourselves more and more available to Him, we bring Him glory.

So if you can, set aside some regular, consistent, and daily time to spend alone with the Father. Maybe it means taking a short walk during lunch or turning off the car radio on your way home. If you’re home during the day, perhaps you have a special place where you can sit quietly for a few minutes. Whatever rhythm you practice, offer that precious time up to the Father. And cherish it as your own time of renewal and inspiration.

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Because He Loves …

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By Brian Waple

To be honest, I absolutely adore my granddaughter, Dylan. I have adored her from the day she was born, and always will. Even with all her awkwardness, there is something special about her that evokes strong feelings in me that are indescribable. Now I know that as she grows older, there will be times of testing. But my love for her will never change. No matter what she does or doesn’t do, I will always love her.

Isn’t it the same with God and us? God knows our past, present and future, and yet He still loves us. In fact, he is absolutely crazy in love with us. Did you know that the word “love” appears close to 550 times in the NIV translation? (By the way, the number of times the word “love” is used outnumbers the word “sin.”) What does that say about God? John 3:16 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (NLT). When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind … a second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Why so much emphasis on love? If we just obey as we’ve been commanded, isn’t that enough? If we attend the weekly worship service at church, join community groups, pray regularly, read our Bibles, lead Bible studies, help out at activities, disciple others … isn’t that enough? The people of Israel thought so. They thought that all God required were their sacrifices. In Micah 6, we read, “What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?” Micah goes on to say, “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” It is a heart of love for God and others that enables us to do these things. Our obedience to God should come out of our love for God, not the other way around.

I guess my preoccupation with love comes out of a book I’m reading by Dr. David Benner called Surrender to Love. In discussing the story of the prodigal son, Benner writes, “Part of me — and I suspect part of all of us — wants to earn the Father’s love. In the story both sons fall into this trap, and both have to learn the same lesson. The Father’s love reflects the Father’s character, not the children’s behavior. My behavior — whether responsible or irresponsible — is beside the point. Responsible behavior does not increase the Father’s love, nor does irresponsible behavior decrease it” (p. 20).

I remember a conversation I had with my sister Whitney, who struggled with alcoholism. Looking back on her life, she asked, “How could God possibly love me after all things I’ve done and continue to do?” I told her about one of my favorite Christian authors, the late Brennan Manning, a former Catholic priest and chronic alcoholic. I told her about Manning’s belief that God continued to pursue him, even in the midst of his wretchedness, because of God’s love for him and the grace God extended toward him. I told her that God continues to pursue her, because He loves her and extends that same grace to her. She just needed to acknowledge her need for Him — that in spite of what we do and because He loves us, God never gives up on us.

We were made to be in relationship with others and we were made to love, because we were created in God’s image and that is God’s character. And here’s the really crazy thing: even the love I feel for Dylan, or Cindy, or other members of my family cannot come close to how much God loves me. Can we love as God loves? I don’t think we can in this life; but I believe there is a long-forgotten part of who we are that desires to love that way. And one day, I believe we will. God has pursued humanity from the beginning because He has loved us from the beginning. Although at times our actions and behaviors can grieve God, He continues to pursue us because of the immeasurable love He has for us.

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SNOW

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By Brian Waple

Snow, snow, beautiful snow … we got close to a foot of snow at the house Sunday night … makes up for the past couple of years! As I was looking at the snow Monday morning, it made me think of Martin’s message this past Sunday regarding shame. Everyone deals with it — believer and unbeliever alike. It’s one of the unfortunate byproducts of our fallen nature. Early on in Genesis, we first hear about shame: “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves” (Genesis 3:7 NLT). Can you imagine what that must have felt like? Everything is going so perfectly well, and suddenly you think, “I am bad.”

So, what does this talk about shame have to do with the snow? Well, think about it: the beautiful white stuff covers the frozen ground beneath. Just like the fig leaves covered the shame of Adam and Eve. Just like we do when we present our “front stage” selves to others, hiding what’s going on in the back stage. But the back stage is still there, and in the midst of the back stage, among other things, lies our shame.

As Martin said, it’s not easy dealing with shame. It takes a brave person to face the fact that they are living with shame in one form or another. Shame permeates pretty much everything we do. It can even affect the good things we do. But it is when we are brave that we allow people into our backstage … into our shame (and make no mistake, it’s probably one of the bravest things we’ll ever do). It doesn’t make it any less messy, however. But, when we become vulnerable and allow people in, it’s kind of like melting snow through which we start to see the slushy, dirty ground underneath. The ugliness is still there, but if we are willing to confront the ugliness, surrender it to God, and seek encouraging and loving community to help us deal with the ugliness, through God’s grace, mercy, and love, the ugliness will be replaced with what lies at our core — God’s beautifully created image bearer.

But, taking that first step, being brave enough to admit your shame and ask someone to walk with you as you address your shame — that is how we face and overcome our shame, being willing to accept that we are not perfect people, but in our imperfection we are accepted by God and we are worthy of love and belonging. It is only then that our shame, like the snow, begins to melt away, revealing God’s beautiful creation underneath.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)

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Time Out

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By Brian Waple

At times, we come to a place where everything around us seems busy, hurried, and urgent, and it’s hard to be mindful of God’s presence and the peace His presence brings.  Admittedly, I have been in that place many times, as I’m sure we all have. When that happens, it’s important to remember to take time out from whatever we’re doing and just simply reflect on God’s Word, taking from His Word the reassurance that comes from knowing He loves us and will never leave us.

Recently, I was reflecting on Psalm 23, the psalm which Charles Spurgeon once called “David’s Heavenly Pastoral.” It is a psalm that to me is uplifting, encouraging, and reassuring. It brings hope.

I don’t know what you’re going through, but I would ask that you take a moment right now and just read through the psalm. Savor each phrase. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you through the reading.

“The Lord is my shepherd;

I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

    He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid,

    for You are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

    My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” (NLT)

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NLT)

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