They say I’m sick. At least, where I live in the Middle East, that’s the Arabic word used to describe me. The backstory is, I was born with a chromosomal abnormality. Although I do not have a lot of the physical features associated with my condition, my weakened body is still susceptible to some potentially serious complications. For most of my adolescent and young adult years, I didn’t keep up with research and information on my medical condition. I relied on the information I had learned when I was young, which at the time was still minimal. Since I enjoyed reasonably good health for most of my life and needed minimal medical attention, I really didn’t learn to live as someone who was “sick.”
A few years ago, a friend of mine found out in the early stages of pregnancy that her unborn child had a rare genetic disorder. The child would not survive life outside the womb. I opened up about my own condition and was encouraged to share my story at a junior high girls’ Bible study. This prompted me to do some more research about my medical diagnosis. As I began looking at current information, I remember wanting to weep over the shame I felt. Words used to describe my condition included ones like failure, difficulty, deformity, abnormality, and even awkward. It was a crushing blow to my spirit.
I knew my genetic story from a young age. Being raised in the church, I learned early on that Christ was the stability I longed for and needed. I knew I would have my particular physical challenges. Still, for the first time, I remembered feeling so broken, weakened, and alienated from people whose genetic story seemed to be complete and without defect. They don’t have to worry about potential heart abnormalities later in life, lasting complications from chronic infections during their childhood, or if their medical condition will affect finding a future spouse.
When I was preparing to share my story with others, my same friend, who later lost her child, reminded me of what we had learned in church history class while in seminary. The 4th-century theologian and Archbishop of Constantinople, Gregory of Nazianzus, once said, “For that which he [Christ] has not assumed he has not healed.” This was a response to a heresy spread by Apollinaris, a 4th-century bishop who questioned how Jesus could be both fully human and fully divine. Apollinarianism denied that both divine and human nature could co-exist perfectly together in Christ. This line of thought was condemned by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. If Christ’s incarnation did not include a fully human and a fully divine nature, our salvation would not be complete.
Because of the Fall, it isn’t just my soul that needs redeeming. My body and mind did, too. In the incarnation, Christ assumed all that we are – flesh, mind, and soul. In Luke’s account of Christ’s birth narrative, we learn he grew in wisdom and in stature (Luke 2:52), while Hebrews 4:15 reminds us he was without sin. Because he was fully God (being without sin) and fully man (taking on human flesh), our salvation is complete. I may risk sounding cliché, but I often need the reminder that Christ had chromosomes. Jesus came bearing human genes. We have a Deliverer with a DNA pattern. When we hear of bodies and minds wrecked with genetic or mental maladies, it is not the end of our story, for when Christ assumed all we are, he saved and redeemed all we are. Doug Webster, a Beeson Divinity School professor, acknowledges that “Everybody has a story, but only one story redeems our story.” Likewise, everyone has a unique genetic story. I live daily knowing there is no cure for me. On this side of eternity, I will never be healed. However, I live with hope here and now realizing my genetic story – as well as yours – is redeemed by the gospel story.
In the Middle East, a stigma still surrounds those born with a genetic, physical, or mental illness. I wish I could argue for a better word than “sick” for people like them and me. I can’t change the wording that leaves one feeling as if a looming, shameful, life-long sentence hangs over them. But perhaps a new word is not what they need most. Their greater need is to hear the Gospel and to see their story intricately woven in the grander narrative of God’s story. Living in the Muslim world, I am surrounded by a majority of people with misconceptions about the trinity and holy Godhead. They deny Christ is the Son of God. Striving to incur favor with God by their good works, they have no concept of saving grace. We should continue to share the Gospel with those who have yet to hear, with those who do not have the full picture of the work and person of Jesus.
I can’t change how I was born. My genetic story tells one of weakness, failure, and incompleteness. That would be a sad ending had I never known the One who, through his death and resurrection, heals all our infirmities and says to the sin-sick soul, “Be healed.” In Christ, I have assurance of full spiritual and bodily redemption. And it is in the Gospel that I find my story complete in Jesus.
I was in college, driving to my best friend’s house to hang out with her and a guy showing interest in her. There was no logical reason why I should have had trouble finding the road I needed to turn on, but I couldn’t locate it. Cell phone service was spotty, resulting in a lot of dropped calls in my efforts to have her talk me through the way over the phone. I didn’t have a GPS, so I kept driving around until I finally managed to make it. I lost time, and although it was probably only minutes, it felt like ages.
I found out later that this guy took full advantage of my delayed arrival and asked my friend about dating in between those spotty phone calls. Their dating led to their engagement, with me being the maid of honor at their wedding.
Delays are universal, whether they are missed turns or intentional hold-offs. Either way, they can prove frustrating or baffling when we don’t understand the reason behind them. God’s word has many stories of delays. In John 11, Jesus purposefully delayed going to visit Lazarus when he heard his friend was sick. We read that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, and “when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5-6, ESV). In the delay, Lazarus died. Jesus and his disciples arrived at Lazarus’ hometown of Bethany to two bereaved sisters. When Jesus came to Mary and Martha, both responded with the statement, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32, ESV). They knew Jesus’s power and character. What Mary and Martha couldn’t see was the purpose behind Jesus’s delayed arrival.
It is easy to take a passage like this and turn it into a character lesson where the focus is on us. We often ask questions like, “What does God want to teach me in my delay?” and, “How should I respond when I face delays?” Although there is room for that, if we only teach about or address delays this way, we risk using Scripture to be a book about us and not about God. That’s easy to do with texts like John 11.
In John 11, the glory of God was forefront and center. Jesus knew from the beginning that Lazarus’ sickness and death would bring glory to him and the Father (John 11:4). When Jesus hears Martha’s hesitation at opening the tomb, he answers by asking, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40, ESV). It’s not that Jesus’s performance of miracles is dependent upon our faith (See William Hendriksen’s New Testament Commentary, “John”). But God does call us to keep his glory at the front and center.
I have to believe Martha and Mary wanted to see God’s glory. However, if they had limited that to only wanting to see God’s glory in Lazarus’s healing (when they had asked Jesus to come), they would have diminished God’s majestic glory. We often do the same, wanting to box God’s glory into our personalized circumstances and “me” shaped boxes.
God’s glory goes beyond our personal story. I saw the delay of getting to my friend’s house as being about me. Where did I go wrong in the directions? Why was I having trouble finding the road I needed? How come I couldn’t hurry up and get there faster? But this wasn’t a lesson about patience or a cliché “Eventually you’ll get there” kind of learning moment. At the time, God was working a bigger, better story behind the scenes, and I couldn’t see it. Nor was I the main character.
Sometimes the vehicle God uses to thrust the greater story of his glory is a delay. It’s uncomfortable being in the seat of waiting and unknown. But God calls us to keep our eyes on him and his glory. In the middle of delays, how can we live as the people of God?
In Isaiah 42:8, God says, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (ESV). God takes his glory seriously, and he will not yield it to the idols of our preferences, timelines, and idealized circumstances. As I walk through delays, God’s word guides my eyes to stay fixed on his glory. There may be pain, confusion, or temporary disappointment, but trust me. The view of his glory is much better than we could imagine.
I absolutely love my language teacher. She’s a beautiful, smart, confident young lady who I like to describe as Arab strong. One day last week she marked the errors on almost every single word I wrote down. She corrected (and still corrects) my accent for the 50th time on the same word. It was enough to leave me in tears. (And it actually did.) I wanted to continue loving her, but it was tough when I needed a lot of correction and seemed to be getting plenty of it.
God used language learning to nudge me about accepting his discipline. Here is what I have learned about the two.
1. I need correction. Even though English is my native language, I wasn’t born speaking it perfectly. How much more did (and does) my sinful heart need the correction and training of a holy God! We all have fallen short. I was born with a tendency to go astray and shirk from correction.
2. Discipline is good for growth. If I am to progress in the language, I need to be diligent in giving proper time to studying. Although language study is of some great value, godly discipline has value for all things (including my attitude when being corrected). Godly discipline allows me to grow in Christlikeness.
3. Discipline shows I am legitimate. If I were not a bona fide language learner, why should my language teacher care or desire to correct me? God disciplines those he loves, and it shows his fatherliness to me, his child (Hebrews 12:6-7).
Godly discipline doesn’t feel comfortable, but it is not the only character of God I see. I see his abundant grace, his enduring faithfulness, his generous mercy. I would be severely discouraged if I only focused on God’s discipline and failed to remember his other attributes. Correction is not the only side of my language teacher I witness, either. I experience her encouragement, her joyful laughter, and her genuine care of people. I remember that as we link arms down the hall, call each other flower, and share about life.
Here are some helpful phrases I am trying to train myself to say or things I am trying to do while learning Arabic and finding I am not enjoying being corrected:
Learning to accept correction in various areas is giving me a better attitude for language learning and more profound love for the amazing young lady who teaches me. It is not a “once and done” lesson learned, but a continual journey. Even those who are mature in the faith must yield to God’s discipline daily. Some days I find myself willingly yielding to correction. Other days I balk at being told what to do or how to do it (or what to say and how to say it). Scripture has a promise for this often painful process. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, ESV). With the help of the Holy Spirit, I can allow discipline to produce beautiful fruit for God’s glory if I am willing to be trained by it. That’s the incredible promise we have as believers in Christ.
When I moved overseas, deciding what books to bring, leave behind, or store away was a tough call to make. Some books I couldn’t part with. I even added to my collection, but it wasn’t commentaries or books on cross-cultural living. It was a selection of theological books for children. As the church, we should care about the quality of teaching and writing presented to children. The voice on good Christian publication for children is not limited to parents, teachers, or writers. Reliable sources for kids should be in your selection of books, even if you’re like me – a single in your mid-30’s, no children, and not working with children full time.
As a student in seminary, God’s word came to life in remarkable ways. I needed that kind of academic rigor to train my immature mind and heart to grow in my understanding of God. As growth took place, my love for the Lord deepened and matured. I was excited about God’s word. I wanted to share what I was learning with people of all ages. I became confident that teaching God’s truths to young minds was entirely possible. The church should focus on training young minds if we’re serious about raising a generation of Bible-literate disciples. Here are some reasons why I have found books for children beneficial.
1. It gives me a working language. I learned a lot of new vocabulary while studying theology. Because a lot of the terms were unfamiliar to me, I needed a simple, uncomplicated working definition I could understand and communicate with others. In the church, I interacted with people of different ages and levels of education. Now that I am in a cross-cultural setting and learning a new language (and culture), using vocabulary that is not difficult to translate into another language or culture is valuable when making disciples.
2. It gives me resources I feel confident recommending. As I began soaking up solid teaching, I grew dissatisfied with and disheartened by the bulk of unhelpful material in the Christian market. Regrettably, the majority of Christian material for children was weak. Bible stories were shallow, did not often connect to the Bible as a whole (if they did so at all), and boiled down to moral lessons. When I learned about some gospel-based resources for kids that taught the overarching narrative of Scripture, traced themes throughout the Bible, and helped people grow as disciples, I began telling others about it. (A few people bought or checked out the material based on my recommendations.) I was able to recommend them because they were already in my book collection.
3. It aids my personal spiritual growth. Feeding the hearts and minds of children should be on the same level of importance as feeding hearts and minds of adults. It’s a good, healthy stretch to think of illustrations that are age appropriate or suitable for someone with a lower-level education. Can I find examples suitable for my elementary-school-aged niece? Am I limited to using big words I don’t feel confident explaining? That’s my litmus test. This challenge in learning how to communicate God’s truths without overcomplicating language helped me to grow, too.
So, what books do I recommend?
The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski. I appreciate how Machowski treats the Bible as a whole in this easy-to-follow book. He handles tough passages of Scripture rightly. I mean, how many children’s story Bibles have the story of Achan’s sin from Joshua 7? Not many, I’m afraid.
The Ology, also by Machowski, is another one I personally own. This is one of the most helpful books I have found for teaching profound, theological truths. It is incredibly readable, and it would go along wonderfully with something like New City Catechisms.
Prepare Him Room is a fun, family-friendly Advent devotional, but I found it delightful with or without a family. Yes, it’s another one by Machowski. He handles Old Testament prophecies on the coming of Christ in a way that adults and kids alike can enjoy and learn from. It’s also concise, so it’s great for busy families and short attention spans.
New Growth Press also has curriculum to go along with some of these sources. By the way, check out the fantastic music that accompanies these works! I am hooked. It’s been aunt tested, niece approved. Most of the music for Machowski’s works is by Sovereign Grace. You can’t beat New City Catechism’s catchy music, either.
(Sorry this is so heavy on one author! If you know others who are equally reliable, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your recommendations.)
I also include a list of a few recommended podcasts:
The Gospel Coalition’s Help Me Teach the Bible podcast by Nancy Guthrie is one of my go-to’s. She has a helpful episode on how to Raise the Bar When Teaching Children in her interview with David and Sally Michael. Listening to it is worth your time!
The Village Church in Texas has a great podcast called Knowing Faith, featuring one of my favorite Bible teachers, Jen Wilkin. They raise more than a few thought-provoking questions in the episode “Can Kids Be Theologians?”.
“God’s timing is perfect,” she said to me. The words settled like soured milk in my stomach on a hot day. I grew angry. Not at the sweet woman who I knew was praying for me in all sincerity as I prepare to move overseas. I didn’t sense my anger was directed at God, either.
It was the fact she said it like God’s timing was something I was supposed to enjoy. And right then I wasn’t.
“Is this phrase even biblical or theologically sound?” I asked myself. I wasn’t finding it helpful in a season of waiting and unknowns. It certainly isn’t quoted in the Bible. I decided to delve into Scripture, and was fascinated by what I found.
Time, in the original Hebrew language, speaks of what God has appointed; the occurrence, occasion, or season for something. It’s also used to mark the duration or circuit for something, which can be taken as linear like a calendar.
You may be more familiar with two Greek words for time. Perhaps your pastor or a Bible teacher has mentioned “chronos” or “kairos” in their sermons or teaching. Chronos represents the sequential sense of a period of time or marked duration. It’s like clock time. Kairos is different in that it marks an appointed time or a proper or opportune time, especially for action.
How long would my period of waiting last? When would God act on my behalf by supplying my needs? I had no answers and absolutely no control. I wanted both, but I knew they were not in my power to give or take. Had they been, all my needs and the answers to my questions would have been granted yesterday. I pressed on to trust God even though his timing seemed far from perfect and waiting was certainly not enjoyable.
So where did the idea that “God’s timing is perfect” come from? I decided to reach out to a former seminary professor and colleague who could help me with the ancient Hebrews’ understanding of God’s timing. The Hebrew people believed that the Lord was not forgetful or negligent in carrying out his promises. Everything was done according to his planned timetable. He also explained this saying probably came from a general theological observation based on the idea of divine sovereignty, referencing Galatians 4:4 and 2 Peter 3:8-9 as examples.
Corresponding with my professor and a more thoughtful study of Scripture gave me a different perspective of God’s timing.
If we consider God’s timing to be perfect in the sense that it speaks of what he’s appointed, that it is promised to be brought to completion and fully accomplished by him, then I think we would agree God’s timing is perfect.
Isaiah 61:2 speaks of the year of the Lord’s favor (Chronos time). Jesus said, in Luke 4:21, he fulfilled this same passage. This unmerited favor, in the form of the incarnate Christ, came from a perfect God at the exact time he appointed.
If, however, we take God’s perfect timing to mean it conforms to our exact ideals, then we are sorely disappointed, for is not perfect.
Psalm 145:15 is a blessing I often used and taught children to use before meals: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” Due season is not something we’re privileged to determine, as much as we may wish we were. Delays and setbacks happen. The world is blemished by sin, and Satan often conspires to thwart what God has perfectly ordained. Sometimes I am guilty of inaction or indifference to what God has willed. Adding to that tension, we are still waiting for the complete fulfillment of God’s Kairos time for Christ to return.
We can and should take comfort in his delay. It affords us the joy of marveling at his patient kindness toward sinners like us. Waiting in the “already, but not yet” is our opportune time to proclaim the gospel, to boldly declare the Lord’s favor to those who can do nothing to earn it. What better way to make the most of our time – the time God has given us – than to be agents of restoration and reconciliation as we wait for his glorious promises to unfold.
If you are inclined to tell someone God’s timing is perfect, point to Christ rather than circumstances. It’s tempting to tell stories of people who “waited just a bit longer” and whatever they were waiting for unfolded – marriage, children, career, etc. When we tell those stories, we may give the false impression God will work the same way in their lives or that waiting will earn them their spiritual patience badge. God’s timing has rarely coincided with my own well-intended plans, and I’m beginning to see it’s probably a good thing.
The more I stop trying to fit God and his timing into my proverbial box, the more I am free to see him as bigger and better. When I yield my temporal short-sightedness for his eternal perspective, his glory and his timing is far grander than my “I want it now” perspective.
My waiting period for moving to the Middle East finally ended. I’m settling in to a new life, a new routine, a new culture. God’s timing still continues. His word teaches me how to live wisely in the already but not yet. It allows me to rest – albeit sometimes uncomfortably – in his sovereignty. If I were still waiting for this new season to begin, God showed me he is and would still be good. His timing really is perfect after all, even when the waiting is or isn’t over.
As we contemplate Advent, our thoughts may turn to our own waiting. My particular season of waiting has been swirled with disappointment and tension, joy and awe. The four themes of Advent – hope, peace, joy, and love – are beautiful indicators of how our waiting should be characterized. I often find myself waiting in just the opposite manner. In passages often used in the Advent season, biblical characters reflected the same struggle and temptation in waiting many of us face.
Waiting in Hope in Advent
Passage: Isaiah 8:11 – 9:7
Focus Verse: Isaiah 8:17 (ESV)
“I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.”
Advent teaches us just as much about waiting in hope as waiting for hope. The prophet Isaiah lived at a time when the Assyrian invasion was imminent. Security was fragile, causing his fellow countrymen to despair. But God called him to live differently, not walking in the way of the people and not fearing what they fear. Extremely countercultural for his situation and time, Isaiah was called to wait upon God in hope, even when God appeared far away. Not many of the people around the prophet would follow in his footsteps. Isaiah and the two children born to him early in chapter 8 were testimonial of God’s faithfulness and presence among his people. Putting their hope in the Lord would be a well-proved sanctuary.
About six decades before Christ’s birth, Palestine came under Roman rule. Tensions between the Jews and their Roman occupiers swelled like a festering sore, oozing out in distrust and animosity. This is the situation in which King Herod took the throne. Suspicious of any perceived threat to his rule, Herod placed all of his hope in himself in order to protect his position. When mysterious wise men arrived, claiming to come pay homage to the true king of the Jews, Herod devised a ruthless plan to destroy hope (Matthew 2:13). God’s plan was bigger. Herod’s iron fist would not be able to secure the government on his own shoulders.
The enemy of hope would soon rather have us destroy it. But if he can’t get us to destroy hope, he might work to cause us to doubt it. It works to the same effect in his book.
Zechariah was a righteous man (Luke 1:5-6), chosen by lot to serve in the temple. We know something else about him, too. He and his wife Elizabeth were childless. While praying for his homeland Israel, he likely petitioned God to bring the promised Messiah from the line of David and perhaps included his own personal request for a child. The angel Gabriel appeared, announcing Zechariah’s prayer had been heard. They would have a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah. Zechariah’s immediate reaction is doubt. “I’m old. Elizabeth is old. How is that possible?”
Doubt can set in quickly to quell hope. Coupled with doubt, forgetfulness fogs our spiritual memory of God’s mighty acts in the past. This can happen to seasoned saints and those with years of ministry under their belt. Zechariah and Elizabeth were not the only aged and barren couple surprised by an unexpected birth announcement. Abraham and Sarah were past child bearing age when God promised the birth of Isaac.
Advent presents us with options for waiting.
Are you tempted to believe hope is for those who have it all together? God does not reserve hope for the spiritual or social elite. Rather, it’s a gift for all. We only need to set our hope in him through faith to receive it.
O come, all unfaithful, downcast and defeated,
The place for such as these is Bethlehem.
Come hear the gospel, good news for the sinner
O bring your burdens to him,
Praise from all creatures due him,
The way to God is through him,
Christ the Lord!
photo credit: Dan Kiefer @Unsplash