Thursday, July 23, 2009

Personal Reflection: A Better Country

They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

                        Hebrews 11.16 


This comes from a heart overflowing with praise to a God Who never ceases to prove His wisdom, love, and concern for us. What should have been a regular post has become a momentous opportunity to rejoice and be glad. God’s goodness and love have filled Walt and me with joy. After spending better than two hours taking inventory of how many blessings were stored up, fell into place, and braced us for what's just happened, we stood in awe of all we’ve got to thank God for. But before I share a little of what we’re marveling about and how it affected today’s post, suppose I bring you up to speed.

Walt lost his job yesterday.


When I finish a post, I sit still for a bit, trying to “listen” for keywords, verses, or themes leading me to the next day’s topic. In no way am I intimating subjects come via epiphany. Mostly, I rummage around in my head for something I pray will inspire you—a thought or two that hasn’t gone stale or popped up recently. Night before last, “Heaven” kept crossing my mind, I kept pushing it aside, and it refused to go away. 

Writing about Heaven makes me nervous, since many Christians view it as our reason instead of our reward. I’m convinced following Jesus in this life is what our purpose must be. Doing it to ensure eternal bliss and/or escape torture strikes me as self-serving, contrary to His example and teachings. So I’m wary about even slightly suggesting faith’s driving goal is getting us to Heaven or saving us from Hell. If we obey Christ, our hope for Heaven is secure. When the urge to write about Heaven wouldn’t be ignored, however, I clicked on to do a keyword search. My eyes fell on Hebrews 11.16, nestled in the epistle’s famous roll call of faith heroes. Here’s the full passage:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11.13-16)

From a Distance

When Walt called with the news he no longer was a TV news writer, I understood. I’d been led to Hebrews because less than 24 hours later, we’d be challenged to see and welcome God’s promises from a distance, to know a better country lay ahead. It’s far too early and completely impossible to speculate what it is or where it will be, but we know with all certainty it’s prepared and waiting to be found. As 1 Corinthians 2.9 explains, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

This Word is true for each and every one of us. Setbacks will force us to view and embrace God’s promises from afar. As with Abraham and Moses, we may not see all God’s promised us reach fruition in this life. Nonetheless, in His time per His plan, He’ll honor His word. If we feel like aliens and strangers here, it’s because we long for a better country, a home of our own. And by faith we’ll find it, if not now, most assuredly in the life to come. Did not Jesus teach us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven?” Yielding to God’s will is our greatest desire and only hope. If we discipline our hearts and minds to that end, no matter what we’re told or who believes otherwise, God is honored to be called our God and prepares a place for us.

Perfectly Timed

The possibility Walt’s position might close has been on our radar for some time. His station started slashing jobs months before the economic meltdown led its nightly newscasts. The cuts got wider and deeper with each round until they sliced into the newsroom’s marrow. Things got to the point Walt was doing the work of three people. It was tough, discouraging, and exhausting. We prayed for the best, prepared for the worst, and believed however it went, we’d be better for it. While Walt’s misery got real old real fast, fresh promises were on the rise, set in motion two years ago when he decided to explore a new interest. It seemed like a lark at the time. We now know it was much more.

He signed up for an improv comedy class, thinking it might be fun. It was. So he took another, then another, and finished the series of classes open to the public. (The famous theater offering the classes forbids students to publicize any affiliation with it prior to their "graduation show." But as we live in Chicago, you probably know what it is.) Again, on a lark, he auditioned for admission to the school's conservatory—the professional training ground for countless comedy legends. It took two tries, but he got in and has been working diligently on his new endeavor ever since. (He’s terrifically funny on-stage, by the way.)

Now, for those still with me, here are a few things that stoked our joy and amazement at how perfectly timed God’s plan for each of us is. What began as a casual pastime two years ago formally ended with Walt's very last session of instruction on Monday. All of the layoffs occurred on Tuesday except his, as it was his day off. When we got wind of them that evening, the size and nature of the cuts told us what to expect. Yet Walt's joy over an achievement two years in the making blunted all anger and anxiety. He went to work ready to respond with gratitude to his bosses and colleagues for their contributions to his career. They hardly anticipated that from one who should be outraged at getting tossed after 12 years of service. Nor were they poised for his treating this like the gift it is, giving him time for other classes, workshops, and performances he couldn’t attend because he worked evenings. (They’re underwriting it, too; his severance package combined with unused vacation will carry him through Christmas Day.) Closing their door opens dozens of new doors for him. He’s looking for a better country.

One Step of Faith

Is it foolish to believe a few coincidences weakly tied to a darkly clouded day harbinger far brighter ones? Some may think so. But 1 Corinthians 1.27 tells us foolishness and weakness are God’s preferred tools: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” We see this repeatedly in His Word. It’s foolish to imagine an elderly, barren couple can give birth to a nation. Yet Abraham and Sarah did. It’s weak-minded to think a wanted killer can defy a king to free thousands of slaves. Yet Moses did. It’s crazy to suggest an untried leader can conquer a city by organizing a march. Yet Joshua did. They and so many others saw and welcomed God’s promises from a distance. Looking weak and sounding foolish didn’t frighten them. They longed for a better country, a home of their own prepared by God. He’s got a better country prepared for us all. We get there by following Jesus one step of faith at a time.

Especially for Walt, but also for all of us longing for a better country: Kirk Franklin’s “Looking for You.”

(Tomorrow: All Things at All Times)

Online Bible Study Tonight! “Thinking Like Christ”

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Cuboid Master said...

How beautiful that Walt perceives his dismissal as an opportunity, for indeed it is. Who knows? Maybe we'll see him in LA at the Comedy Store, or even on the cast of SNL! Whatever the outcome, God has provided him an opportunity to discover that "new country." Oh, and he is a fortunate man to have a supportive partner like you that knows every "tragedy" is also an opportunity. Good luck, Walt! I can't wait to learn what wonders unfold.

Tim said...

CM, we're aware trying times most likely await us, yet the definitive opening of this new chapter in our lives--and Walt's particularly--gives us great joy. All day long I've watched him try to "go there," to get downcast about losing his job and anxious about what's ahead. Yet he gets about two or three steps in that direction and he turns around.

I'm utterly amazed by this. Socially, he's one of the most ebullient and charming people you'll ever meet, but privately he tends to be a "half-empty" kind of guy when he's thrown a curve or two. His glass isn't just full, it's spilling all over this house and me. I'm so grateful to God for him and for having him.

Thank you with all our hearts for your words of encouragement. What a gift we've been given to have true friends like you!

Blessings always,

Missy said...

What a tremendous witness and faith you and Walt have. My prayers and best wishes ascending for both of you.

It is amazing how these events converged for Walt; it fills me with hope. I hope he thoroughly enjoys this time in his life.

Tim said...

MIssy, thank you. It's a thrilling time and a trying one, too. Walt's trying to adjust to all these new rhythms and possibilities laid out before him. At times, he's like a kid in a candy shop; at others, he's like a kid in a dentist's waiting room. I understand both kids very well, as I've been both of them--and haven't we all?

All of this is teaching us how vital faith is, because when the currently unanswerable questions insist themselves on us, we have no choice but knowing God knows and sees what we we don't and can't. We do know this change in the weather of our lives will produce new growth.

As I mentioned this morning during Bible study, Walt said he feels like a pregnant mother--his emotions are on a roller coaster and he doesn't know what he wants one minute to the next. But we're both assured that what he's "carrying" right now is big and beautiful and will be a great gift to our lives!

Bless you for your kindness to us and your hope. Keep us in your hearts and prayers as we persevere to find the hope James calls for at the start of his later--the hope Paul says makes us "not ashamed."

Peace and joy,

Anonymous said...

How incredible it must be to the rest of the world when they see us going through the same struggles as them, and yet we're not defeated!

"This little light of mine..."

I'm glad to hear you're both taking this in stride and with hopeful expectancy!!!

I'm still gonna pray for y'all, but now I know I can spend more time thanking God for all he's done than pleading for his mercy!

Tim said...

Your prayers are deeply appreciated, Jake--and your thankfulness is, too. "In everything give thanks, for this is God's will concerning you," Paul says. We're taking his word on this and doing our best to live by it. Neither of us is so unrealistic to imagine we'll escape moments when thanksgiving eludes us. Knowing you're out there, taking up our slack will give us much-needed courage and comfort.

Shine on, dear brother,