The In-Between

In-Between

For the last 4 years my daughters have been taking gymnastics lessons and have competed for the last 2 years. This had become a big part of our life: practice twice a week, practice at home, studying videos and routines, going to competitions, and doing team fundraisers. It has been a great joy to watch them grow and develop in their skills as well see them mature as they move away from the baby-ish parts of life and into a season of teamwork and care for others above themselves. Sometimes I think it mattered more to me than it did them because I wanted them to learn these life lessons that are connected with their athletic experiences (but more about that later).

A few months ago a real change happened in Aiden that led us away from the gymnastics world. She began to tell me that she did not want to go to practice and that she no longer had fun doing gymnastics. This was a pretty big shock to me because for years I had taken her to practice, watched her work hard, enjoyed the thrill of seeing her succeed after the long hard struggle to get a movement down pat, and have loved seeing both of our girls practice at home and encourage each other. I passed off this new idea as a season of her being tired of the school year, tired of always being on the go, and tired of the hard work she was putting in.

This idea did not, however, go away. In fact, it escalated to the point of Aiden throwing fits of crying and begging me not to make her go. I pleaded, begged, and bribed her into committing to finish out her year. We had invested a lot of time, money, and effort into her being on this team and I didn’t feel like it was something we could just walk away from. More than that, I was so afraid that she would learn that when something became difficult that she could just quit. I wanted her to learn that when you commit to doing something and being part of a team that you cannot fail to honor your word and your commitment. I felt that if she quit she would miss out on that.

Yet, as the months went on and the emotions continued to escalate we just couldn’t bring ourselves to put her through all of that. I still can’t get her to pinpoint what made something she loved become something she dreaded. I have my ideas but that isn’t the point of where I’m going with this story. The question is, what do we do now? We haven’t been to practice for weeks and we missed her end of year competitions and awards show. She did not want anything to do with gymnastics so we just let it be. It feels like something odd we used to spend so much time doing but now it’s just something in the past. I am unsure what to do with the years of practice, learning, and hard work our girls put in to a sport they no longer do.

This feeling is something I have been struggling with in my own life for years but it has come to a head this last year. After over 20 years of serving in a local church community, being on staff there for over 12 of those years, going to seminary for years to get my Masters of Divinity, and being plugged in to pastoral ministry all that time we decided to step away because our life was too crowded. Between my family, my full-time job, and my military service there was not enough time to do my pastoral ministry the way it deserved to be done. It was a tough decision that we hated to make but we felt it was what was best for our family. It left a very large gap in my heart that I still struggle with. It happened so fast that I really didn’t have time to plan for it. Now I am unsure of what to do with the time, talents, and treasures I feel God has given us in the ministry world.

Both of these situations in our life deal with what I have been calling ‘the in-between.’ The in-between in life is what happens when God allows us to go through a season of life that eventually comes to an end but we haven’t been led into the next season that follows it. It’s those times in life where we lose our job and aren’t sure what to do next. Or when our children grow up and leave but we aren’t ready for the empty nest we are left with. It’s when we get a promotion but aren’t ready for the move to a new town or when we get married and aren’t prepared to leave our season of singleness behind. All of these, plus so many other examples, are part the in-between of life that God allows us to go through before he moves us into the next season of life.

You, like me, may be asking yourself, “What do I do during this time of in-between? What should I be doing with this empty space in my life?” For the last year I have been praying and asking those same questions. Thankfully, I always find that the Bible has the answers to life’s problems. If we are willing to dig into its wisdom we can find what we need to do when God leads us to these crazy and often hectic times in our lives.

If you were at the chapel service I had the honor of preaching at after Easter then this answer will be a recap of what we looked at there. But if you weren’t then hopefully this will bless you; it has been so much on my heart that I needed to write it down and try to share with anyone else who may be in this season of in-between as well. Let’s look at an example of the in-between from the Scriptures and find application for our own lives.

[3] During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

[4] Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. [5] John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1: 3-5 NLT)

 

[1] On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. [2] Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. [3] Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. [4] And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

[5] At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. [6] When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

[7] They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, [8] and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! (Acts 2: 1-8 NLT)

These two passages are probably familiar to you; yet you, like myself, might have read over them so many times that you failed to put them into the context of time. In the first passage from Acts 1, Jesus gives them directions to stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit. The second passage from Acts 2 shows what happened when they received the Holy Spirit and the miracles that followed which led to the start of the 1st Century Christian Church. What the passage doesn’t tell us is that it was many days (2-3 weeks) between the Ascension and the day of Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit. If you aren’t careful you could skip right over that fact.

And this is a very important idea; the Disciples knew that Jesus had promised them that they would receive the Holy Spirit and He had also directed them to stay in Jerusalem until it happened. What they did not know was how long this process would take. Would it be hours, days, weeks, months, or even years? They had no clue! Added to this was that they were living in the same city where their leader (aka Jesus) had been put on trial and executed not too many weeks before. They were hiding for their very lives and were no doubt afraid that they would be found out at any time. This had to be a very trying, scary, and struggling time for this group of people.

This focusing on what is not said can be dangerous to do; we aren’t trying to read something into the Bible that it does not actually say. However, I think it is a pretty safe bet to say that the Disciples were on pins and needles while they waited or Jesus’ words to come true. Who knows what words they said to each other and what thoughts they had while they anxiously awaited the Holy Spirit? What doubts went through their minds and how often did they have to reassure each other that Jesus would keep His promises. I have a hard time believing they were confidently standing around in public unafraid of the consequences.

They, like we are now, were going through their own time of in-between. They had seen the miraculous and had been preparing for over 3 years to see the Kingdom of God be ushered in by Jesus. Yet, He had been killed and came back to life 3 days later! They thought they knew what God was doing and were even after the Resurrection expecting Jesus to set Israel up as God’s Kingdom once again with them as rulers in it. Yet, Jesus ascended into Heaven and told them simply to stay and wait. How confusing could all of this have been to prepare for something for so long that evidently wasn’t even going to happen?

This brings us to our Big Truth for this entry. It is probably one you’ve heard me use before but I feel that it holds true to this part of our lives as well. Our Big Truth for this lesson is: God may be Silent but He is never Absent

Here is what we know from history about what God had been doing for centuries in preparation for that very time in the lives of the Disciples:

  1. God allowed Alexander the Great to conquer the known world and unite these nations under one language Koine Greek.
  2. God allowed the Romans to conquer the Greeks and implement the idea of citizenship which allowed for Roman citizens to travel freely throughout the entire Empire.
  3. God caused the Romans to build roads that connected all of the Empire so that people could travel quickly and safely from territory to territory.

These three things were crucial for the Gospel to exist in a time unlike any other moment in history which led to the Gospel to spread like wildfire and take hold of the Roman Empire in such a way that it would reach the ends of the known world in less than 30 years. If that were not crazy enough, in less than 300 years the Roman Empire itself would unite under the flag of Christianity as the Empire’s national religion. How cool is that?

These were all things that the Disciples could not know much less foresee. God had been quietly working through the architecture of history itself to orchestrate the perfect situation for the Messiah to be born into, grow up, be crucified, resurrect from the dead, ascend to Heaven, and lead the Disciples to spread the Gospel to the entire known world through the power of the Holy Spirit. During their time of in-between the Disciples could not possibly have known everything that God had done, was currently doing, and was going to do in order for the Gospel to be spread in such an effective way. Had this taken place in any other fashion I seriously doubt whether or not we would be the Church that we are today with the Bible as trustworthy as it sits in our hands.

So what does all of that mean to you and me 2,000 years later? It means that, just like God worked in history to set stage for the Disciples to do the extraordinary, God is working in our lives to set us up to bring his Kingdom in mighty ways we cannot even fathom. There are so many times I look back at my life and see the hand of God setting things in motion I would never have chosen but God used to put me right where He wanted me to be to serve His purposes. He may have been silent but I can see that He was never absent in my life.

With this in mind, here is our homework from this lesson:

  1. Remember that Feelings are just Feelings – The way you and I feel in the moment is not always a good indicator of what God is doing behind the scenes.
  2. Trust God to be God – don’t try and take God’s place and put too much confidence in your own plans.
  3. Bloom where you are planted – don’t focus so much on the hope of the future or the joy of the past that you forget that God has you and me where we are for the sake of right now!
  4. Look for the opportunities right in front of our faces – Every place we go and every person we meet is a chance to bring the Kingdom in their lives.

These are the three things I have spent these last few months focusing on. I don’t know how God will choose to use my heart for pastoral ministry or the tools he has allowed to be placed in my toolbox. Will I be a pastor at a local church? Will I become a hospital chaplain? Will I move from the Reserves to Active Duty? Or will God keep me where I am right now for years and years to come? I don’t know what the future holds or how and if God will satisfy the desires of my heart for pastoral ministry. While I don’t know what the future holds I will choose to place my trust in the One who holds the future. I hope you will as well.

Big Truth: God may be Silent but He is never Absent

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