This Seat is Taken

I’ve found few things in life to be more stressful than trying to find an unclaimed seat or row of seats in a crowded venue.  Whether it’s a packed movie theater or a Wednesday night dinner at church, my shoulders tense up when scouring a room for an unoccupied place to sit.

The knowledge of one particular occupied seat, however, doesn’t bring stress, but peace.  In Revelation 4:2, John gives readers a glimpse of his celestial vision when he writes, “There before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.”

Not just someone, but Someone.

Scotty Smith was invited to be a guest preacher at Fort Lauderdale’s Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church as part of their “One Sermon” series.  For this series, guests were asked to consider a hypothetical situation in which they could only preach one sermon and then to deliver that message to the congregation.

Smith preached from the book of Revelation, and offered a timely word of perspective when he said, “Nothing will make you more sane than to see the occupied throne of heaven.”  

Do you ever feel like the events of life have the potential to make you go crazy?  I certainly do.  Change rattles the status quo.  Challenges stretch us beyond our comfort zone.  Fear threatens to steal our sleep forever.

These struggles aren’t unique to the 21st century.  The Roman Empire was a formidable threat to Christians during John’s lifetime.  In fact, John authored Revelation from exile, perhaps due to religious persecution.  Like us, John needed stability and sanity, and that’s just what God graciously gave him.  “The occupied throne of heaven centered John’s heart when his world was falling apart,” says Smith.

If you’re an introverted, behind-the-scenes kind of person like me, searching for an empty seat in a crowded room can sometimes feel like a daunting task.  There’s one seat, though, that will be occupied permanently, and for that we should rejoice.

Since the only seat that truly matters is forever taken, we can face today with confident sanity as we hear the throne’s worthy Occupant declare, “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Navigating the Darkness

Into-the-Light-2-1024x680As I was going through my daily routine this morning, our house was noticeably darker than usual.  Although we have lots of large windows, it was still pitch black outside around 6 o’clock.  Typically, the sun is beginning to rise about that time, slowly brightening the rooms of our house.

This morning I made my way from the kitchen, through the dining room, into the far corner of the living room to turn on a lamp without actually being able to see a thing.  I was pleasantly surprised when I turned on the lamp without tripping over a shoe or stubbing my toe on the furniture.

Thinking about it more, I realized the only reason I was able to navigate the house in the dark was because I’m so familiar with how it looks in the light.  That’s not to say I could walk through the house in complete darkness without bumping into a single thing every time.  An occasional bump is expected in the dark.  But the better I know my way in the light, the more prepared I will be to walk it in darkness.

Sometimes our lives are full of sunshine.  Things seem to be going our way.  The diagnosis was good, the promotion was earned, the relationship was mended.  Other seasons of life are noticeably darker than usual.  Nothing seems to be going our way.  The diagnosis was bad, the employment was terminated, the relationship was ended.

In both extremes – the great and the awful and everything in between – God remains the same.  He’s just as faithful on the good days as He is on the bad days.  By familiarizing ourselves more and more with the character of God and by growing in our knowledge of His promises, we are equipped to walk the path He has in store for us.  When that path takes a turn deep into the dark woods, we can lean on the same God whose character was so evident in the light.  When our circumstances are tough, we can call to mind what we already learned to be true on a better day.

My dining room table, my couch, and my lamp are always in the same place, so finding my way around them in the dark was no big deal.  Yet how much more permanently established are the love, faithfulness, goodness, grace, and mercy of God?  We can navigate the dark seasons of life because we know where the needed resources are found.  Even more, we know Who dispenses those resources as He faithfully goes before us.

Image Rights: Petals of Joy.

Nothing is Wasted

static.squarespace.comA friend recently recommended that I work through an eight-week devotional called Abide.  While it is a change of pace from my normal quiet time routine, it has been refreshing.  In fact, it’s because it’s something out of the ordinary that it has been so energizing.

The Abide journal is filled with devotionals, thought-provoking prompts, and practical activities to make resting in God an intentional reality.

Today’s section was especially meaningful.  The journal had space to write out my current “life description” (think job description, except broader).  But the goal wasn’t simply to write out what I do on a regular basis; the challenge was to affirm God as the initiator and sustainer of my life’s work.

Ideally, I wouldn’t just write, “I’m David’s wife. I volunteer for the youth group. I work at the Wade Center.”  Instead, the idea was to see God as the One who has called me to and equips me for each of these roles.  “God has called me to be David’s wife.  He enables me to love and serve David, and He reminds me that we are both lavishly loved by God already.  When I fail to love and serve David, there is grace upon grace for me.  God has put me at Westminster to be a youth group volunteer.  He has placed me in this role with this group of students for a purpose.  God brought me to the Wade Center and equips me to work hard to support its ministry.”  And so on.

At one point I wrote, “God will not waste this part of my story.”  I needed to remind myself of that truth this morning.  God isn’t wasteful.  He doesn’t waste seasons, circumstances, or struggles.  Even our shortcomings are redeemable – how amazing!

Looking back on my “life description,” I see the word “intentional” several times.  Remembering that God is an intentional God encourages me as I go through what might otherwise feel like a monotonous “daily grind”.  He is working from and for eternity with a purpose.

And as He works, He never wastes.

Image Rights: Naptime Diaries Shop.

The Strongest Force in the World

In one of my college education classes, a guest speaker from Black Forest Academy shared about some of the bilingual boarding school’s unique practices.  The most memorable part of her lecture was when she relayed one of the school’s daily routines.  Each morning, students repeat the following phrase in German and in English, adjusting it to reflect the date: “It’s Friday, August 8, and God is still on His throne.”

I’ve often thought of a German classroom full of students declaring twice each morning that God is on His throne.  Today.  Right now.  Their school year hasn’t begun yet, but if it had, they would’ve recited the truth already while this side of the world was still asleep.

God is still on His throne.

Ebola has caused “a public health emergency of international concern.”  Violence continues to escalate in Israel.  The militant group ISIS has run Christians out of their hometowns, and the conditions are worsening rapidly.  If you’re at all like me, you might start to feel like the walls are closing in around you.

When I think about these situations coupled with the more “routine” suffering of life, I have questions.  There is an abundance of confusion, increasing frustration, and grappling with the unknown.

Although there are plenty of questions, I do know for sure that literally nothing and no one can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).  God’s love for His people is a stronger force than Ebola, Hamas, and ISIS combined.  The world’s greatest tragedies and most feared rulers are no match for God.  Your greatest nightmare – whatever, whoever it involves – isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you.

Separation from God is the nightmare of all nightmares, and it’s exactly what Romans 8 announces is a glorious impossibility for those who are in Christ.  This doesn’t diminish the reality of pain and suffering; it makes the reality of pain and suffering bearable by reminding us it is temporary.  It puts pain and suffering in proper perspective, declaring they won’t get the last word.  It redeems pain and suffering by making them a means by which we can know Christ, the suffering Servant, better.

Because of what Jesus accomplished through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we can grieve the reality of evil while anticipating cosmic redemption (Romans 8:23).  We can feel the tumultuous winds of a groaning world while firmly fixed to a solid Rock.

I don’t know what the rest of today holds, but I know our good God is still on His throne, and we couldn’t possibly be any more secure – no matter what.

The Fuel of Faith

In a sermon titled “Questioning God,” David Platt expounds the small, prophetic book of Habakkuk.  The prophet is in a season of intense struggle, and the difficulties prompt him to start asking questions.  Many of us can probably relate.  In fact, Habakkuk’s struggles and uncertainties are surprisingly relevant.  Except for some distinct cultural references, his words sound like they could’ve been penned yesterday.

During his exposition of Habakkuk, Platt makes a helpful connection between what he calls “the suffering of faith” and “the song of faith.”  The relationship between the two is captured when he says, “Deep, honest questions lead to deep, honest praise.”

It’s been over a year since I listened to this sermon for the first time, but I haven’t forgotten those words.  Sometimes (but certainly not always) Christian culture can insinuate that asking questions is a bad thing.  Occasional, temporary doubts can be portrayed as wrong or as a mark of spiritual deficiency.

Platt’s perspective, however, is entirely different.  As long as we live in a broken world, there will be hurt.  We will continue to have questions.  At times, we will doubt.  To say otherwise would be dishonest.  Instead of demonizing doubt, Platt demonstrates its important role in the process of spiritual growth.

Questions, when directed to God, don’t inhibit praise; they fuel it.  It is only when I have wrestled with God to the core of my being that I am able to praise Him out of those same depths.

Sometimes for the sake of appearance or due to a misguided attempt to glorify God by “having it all together,” we actually perpetuate a superficial Christianity.  Superficial Christianity, which suppresses questions and creates no space for lovingly speaking truth in the face of doubt, hinders both our worship and our witness.

Authenticity is birthed by acknowledging questions, not by disregarding them.  And our world longs for authenticity.  If we’re honest, so does the Church.  Let’s do ourselves and the world a favor by helping one another struggle well.  Let’s create space for questions, and most importantly, let’s encourage one another to direct those questions to a good, trustworthy God – the One to whom the secret things belong (Deuteronomy 29:29).

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If you’re interested in learning more about the book of Habakkuk, I invite you to listen to my husband’s recent sermon series on the book.  In three messages, he offers a well-rounded, challenging, and encouraging exploration of an often overlooked portion of the Bible.  (In order, the sermons are titled “Questioning God,” “Responding by Faith,” and “Never-Ending Joy.”)