We have entered the season of *WAIT*.
Never heard of it before? Me neither, but I have been there many times before. It is that season just after EVERYTHING IS BUSY and just before HERE WE GO AGAIN. It is the time when you have to wait, and you're not quite used to the idea of waiting yet. In the Church Year it always seems to come after Epiphany and ends about Ash Wednesday. Sometimes it comes in that period when there are no holidays, no family days (like birthdays and anniversaries) to distract you, and the sudden quiet in your schedule seems odd, almost oppressively odd.
It is not like there is nothing to do, mind you. There is plenty to do. It is just that it is stuff you do in preparation during those periods of waiting. For me, there is always getting ready for Lent. It is not glamorous, and no one notices that I am busy doing it, and it just feels differently - just as preparing for anything feels differently than participating in it.
The season of *WAIT* is the life of the Church. God created the world, Adam and Eve fell into Sin, Cain murdered Abel, and then they waited. Eve expected the Savior right away (which is why she named Cain as she did). The world knew God was going to do something BIG, but all they had was the season of *WAIT*. They got distracted by the season of *WAIT* and fell into all sorts of corruption, so God sent the Flood.
I imagine that the days and years leading up to the opening of the floodgates of heaven were frenetic years for Noah and his family. They had a boat to build, food to gather, animals to assemble, and preaching to be done to the people who lived around them. Then it started to rain. For an entire year, they had to endure the soggy season of *WAIT*. Sure, they had their daily chores, but their world had become much smaller. The assortment of tasks had become much more restricted, and they had to wait until the rain stopped, and the ark grounded, and they could open the doors. I suspect that they longed for a breath of fresh air!
After a couple of busy years following the flood, it appears that the world entered another season of wait leading up to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was a season of forgetting the past and turning away from God and stumbling around in sin. Only the faithful could mark the decay around them, but even they had to wait. From their perspectives, the lives of the patriarchs were filled with seasons of *WAIT*, but when they stopped over in Goshen, Israel began another great, long season of wait . . . until Moses.
I could take pages to rehearse the history of the Bible, but I think you get the idea. When Jesus ascended into heaven, we entered another season of *WAIT*. You probably have figured out that life goes on, and people get busy with the distractions during the seasons of *WAIT*. They don't just sit around. The Church was given this wonderful and huge task of proclaiming the Gospel and living life in the corrupt world in the light of the great good news. But, don't kid yourself, the entire time has been lived with one eye on the clock, so to speak. God's people are always looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!
Again, this period is not a boring interlude of inactivity, but it is definitely a wait. Just as in every period of wait, people tend to get distracted by the world around them and lose sight of where they are going and what they are supposed to be doing. We have minor interludes in this season of *WAIT*, like the Reformation, following which people start to wander aimlessly around, seemingly dazed by the length of the wait, and tempted to forget the truth and wander away.
It struck me that our short interlude between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday is reminiscent of the wait of the Church for the return of Christ. When Jesus was here there was this brief period of real activity, God's activity among us, followed by the tapering off period of the Early Church. It is not that there is nothing to do, but the really exciting stuff happened two thousand years ago, and we are waiting for the next big moment.
I could catch a lot of heat from my fellow pastors for describing the history of the church like this, because it is a time of great and significant events. There are great heroes of the faith, and great battles fought. Even the battles of our time against apathy and error are heroic and historic in nature - they just don't feel like it. We feel the wait. And we and the people around us are tempted by the distractions and values of the world around us as we wait, and it is difficult at times to maintain one's focus.
But, just as I have my behind the scenes preparations for Lent, the battle for the life of the people of God and for the preservation of the Gospel is going on, fast and furious, around us. The season of *WAIT* is just part of the battle, with the devil hoping that we will not understand the battle and will be confused by the apparent calm and quiet. He hopes we will not notice the seven minor festivals of the church year nearly so much as Super Bowl day, Groundhog day, Valentines Day, and President's Day. He hopes that we will not pay much attention to the deliberate distortion of the Christian Hope in and by our culture, or that we will pick up on the 'vibe' of hostility toward stubborn faithfulness to the Word and clear and consistent confession of Christ, and compromise on those things in order to find favor in the world.
It might strike one as strange, but we are not called to the battle. We are soldiers in it, but Christ called us to faith, to peace, to hope. Our duty in Christ is not to go looking for a fight, but to stand firm in the truth, trusting in Him and His promises, and fighting the battles of the day with patience, forgiveness, and prayer for those who persecute and assail us.
The battle will find us. Our duty is to be prepared for the day that it sweeps over our place in the world. We prepare by grounding ourselves in the Word of God - both knowing what it says (and means) and exercising ourselves in trusting it. I put it that way to try to avoid cliches that have come to mean almost nothing in our world - good statements that have been misused and abused by so many for so long that we cannot find solid meaning in them any longer. That is part of the battle.
We need to know what the Bible teaches, and how it applies to our lives, and then we need to make that application in our daily lives. We have to see and hear that "roaring lion" that Peter calls "your adversary". He sneaks into our homes with the newspapers and magazines we read. He strides boldly in through the Television that we watch - or simply use as the background music of our lives.
Ask yourself, "When was the last time you theologically evaluated the show you were watching?" I didn't ask you to find the immorality, that a child could do, and if you have a child watching with you, they will! This isn't about the moral corruption of our age, so plentifully documented on our news programs by corrupt politicians and twisted and evidently partisan news reporting. I mean, when was the last time you critically evaluated the image of God presented by your favorite entertainments? They don't talk about God? That says something, doesn't it?
How do they depict Christians on your shows? Do they praise taking principled stands on truth, or do they celebrate compromise? How is the name of the Lord used in those situations where they actually use it, or refer to it? Do they suggest by the plot-lines that faithfulness is a good thing, or the behavior only seen in narrow-minded extremists? Is forgiveness glorified, or revenge? What is it that your favorite shows are trying to sneak by your censors?
Every show does it, and a night of watching "the tube" (even though it may have no tubes in it and actually be a flat screen, these days) is invariably an evening of gentle persuasion to forsake those old, outmoded ideas of the past and step boldly into the brave new future of compromise and relativism. The attempt is much less likely to succeed if you are alert to it, on the watch for it, and aware of the messages being transmitted to your sub-conscious. And don't worry about it taking the fun out of TV viewing. It doesn't. It is actually more fun to watch critically and assess what the messages are that they are trying to sneak into your mind.
Of course, now and again, you will find that the networks are so blatant and aggressive with the messages that the show is no longer palatable, but if they are that harsh, you probably discovered that without trying already. When you have company, with which you can be bold and honest about your faith, it can be fun to watch and discuss as a group. But beware, you may discover that people you respect and consider the right sort of people may reveal that they are quite comfortable with the wrong messages, or even agree with them. It can be really painful to find that someone you thought to be solid was simply stale and crusty.
Back to knowing the faith, and being able to apply it, entertainments aren't the only place one needs to be on the alert. Professional associations can be a harbor for temptations to compromise. Neighbors and casual friends will often be the tool the devil will use to school you into silence about those things that are actually the most important things to talk about. Even family will make it clear that they are tire of hearing you talk religion, or criticize the culture, or stand up for what is right, be that Pro-Life issues, or Homosexual issues, or something as simple as the innocent expectation that they will attend worship.
It is easy to be bold in confession with people you don't know -- or at least easier by comparison to standing firm and standing tall in the face of family disapproval, or close friends who threaten to withdraw the intimacy of your friendship if you insist on being such a "goody-two-shoes" [I have actually been described like that by close associates on more than one occasion].
The battle will find us. We are not supposed to be 'out there' making war. We are supposed to be where God has placed us, doing what God has given us to do, and doing it faithfully to His glory. Onward Christian Soldiers is a thrilling hymn, and it is true, but only if we understand that the faith is the battle, and life is the war-zone. Our battle is to be faithful, and to consistently trust God and act on that trust in good times and in bad. What does faith mean, and how does forgiveness, life, and salvation guide our words and our actions in the circumstances of our life - both towards ourselves and towards those around us. Do we actually find an answer to our fears and sorrows in the Gospel? Do we know what it should be? And if we do, can we apply it to ourselves? And can we share it with someone else who needs it?
During the season of *WAIT* it is crucial that we attend to worship, feed on the heavenly food of the holy Supper, and strengthen ourselves in the fellowship of the saints, provided for our comfort and encouragement. And by attend, I mean more than just 'show up'. I mean lock in, focus, listen, participate, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. It is critical that we take prayer seriously, because God does. And we don't want to entertain any of the world's fantasies about prayer. God is not manipulated by it, and prayer has no power in and of itself. God listens and answers every prayer, and the power of prayer resides entirely in the One to whom we pray. He does not need our prayer, but He gave us the right and privilege of prayer because we do!
The season of *WAIT*. That is where we are in the calendar of the Church Year. Lent is coming, and Lent is thrilling for its great lessons and the valley of the shadows leading to Easter. But first, we wait. We live in the season of *WAIT* as our entire lives walk through the valley of shadows, of temptations, and of repentance, that leads ultimately to Easter, only to that great and final Easter when we share in and complete the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But don't let the appearance of the season of *WAIT* fool you. We have things to do!
Yours in the Lord,
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