Loss through Busyness

And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone. ESV 1 Kings 20:40

It seems we are all busy. From early morning to late at night, so many things constantly demand our attention. We hurry to wake up so we can hurry through our workout so we can hurry the kids on the bus so we can hurry to work so we can hurry home so we can hurry dinner so we can hurry to bed…. Sometimes in all the hurrying, we lose the very things we are working toward.

Ahab, the king of Israel, had an opportunity to strike down his adversary, the evil king Ben-Hadad of Syria. Instead of taking advantage of this opportunity, Ahab let him go and made peace. In the verse above, a prophet comes and confronts Ahab through a metaphorical story. In the story, the prophet was asked to keep a captive, and instructed that if the captive escaped, he would pay with his life. He pleads to the king that “as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” He lost the captive he was called to guard. The king rightly agreed with the original sentence: the man must die because he failed to keep his captive. The prophet then confronts the king with the reality that Ahab allowed Ben-Hadad to escape when God had delivered him into his hand. I find it interesting that as we are busy here and there in life, we often lose the very thing we were entrusted with. Perhaps it’s the soul of our kids. Perhaps it’s our marriage. Perhaps it’s opportunities to share the gospel. Perhaps it’s simply opportunities to be with God and enjoy Him.

What are you rushing through today? Weigh these things against what truly matters. Don’t miss the best things in life as you seek survival. You never get this day again. If you need to take time to reconnect with God, do it. If you need to pour into your marriage, don’t wait until tomorrow. If you need to adjust your finances, by all means do so. If your kids need you (not your money, your chauffeuring, your maid, butler and cook skills…) then give them your undivided attention. Don’t allow the busyness of life to cause you to miss what really matters lest you be like the man in the story who suddenly realized…he was gone.

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Redeeming Culture

…you shall allow a redemption of the land. ESV Leviticus 25:24

Growing up, I believed Halloween was Satan’s holiday. After all, it celebrated death, ghouls, ghosts and goblins and all things pagan. Witches and skeletons, blood and gore, Halloween stands as the antithesis of the life and light of Jesus Christ. Because of this, I never went trick-or-treating as a kid, and when we had kids, didn’t go trick-or-treating for many years. Yes, we tried to love our neighbors, and occasionally passed out candy to the hoards of people that came by, but we never felt comfortable participating in what we felt was a celebration of death and all things anti-Christian. Then I began to notice that Halloween was the one day of the year when my entire neighborhood came out and interacted with one another. Neighbors threw parties, hung out in driveways, passed out candy together. Parents walked and talked together, kids ran around together, and in a few short hours, more relationships could be forged than in the entire previous year. It led to us trick-or-treating one year. It was amazing. We connected with tons of people. Yes, a few houses had jello shots for the parents, and some had a little too much death and gore, so we skipped them. But the rest of the time, we connected with neighbors, built relationships and were in the community. What happened?

The short answer is that the gospel is about redemption. Yes, as a holiday, I don’t believe in what Halloween celebrates. I strongly oppose celebrating death, gore, blood, demons, witches, and the like. I refuse to let me kids dress in anything remotely related to these things. However, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. When I pull out of my community because they are celebrating things I disagree with, I ultimately remove my witness. Hence, it seemed in light of the gospel, the best thing to do was to redeem the holiday. Build relationships. Lead others into the light of Jesus. Our theology should change our actions.

I have two challenges for you. If you grew up opposing Halloween, at least consider what I’ve laid out. You may have a small opportunity to redeem the culture. If you grew up loving Halloween, at least take a minute to compare it to the gospel. Let the gospel determine our actions, not the other way around. That’s spiritual formation.

Marriage is Hard

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” ESV Matthew 19:10

A single friend of mine who generally wants to be married remarked to me that after watching her sibling’s marriage, she wasn’t so sure she actually wanted to get married anymore. She saw how her sibling had to change to keep her marriage intact, and my friend realized that if she were to get married, she would actually be giving up a lot. I laughed and agreed. Growing up, I idolized marriage and couldn’t wait to be in a relationship. While I’m thankful God brought me and my wife together, and we have a great marriage, it’s definitely incredibly hard work.

In the context of the verse above, Jesus had been asked about divorce in marriage. For what grounds could someone leave their spouse? Jesus eliminated most options, making divorce all but impossible. He closed the loophole so tightly that the disciples remarked it was better not to marry. Divorce is never an option when things just don’t work out. Why? Two reasons. First, marriage has been ordained by God, and what God has joined together, must never be separated. Second, marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. Now these both sound romantic, but we mustn’t forget Genesis 3 (and all married couples are keenly aware of this). Sin has ruined everything. We are all self-centered pigs, seeking our own way. Husbands domineer over their wives. Wives resent their husbands’ leadership. We fight. Dream of escape. Have mental, emotional, and physical affairs. Resentment builds. Anger simmers. Hurt grows. Sin persists. Remember, we are fallen people, and also never forget Satan works to destroy God’s image. Destroying marriages is one of his top priorities. Yes, perhaps it’s best not to marry.

Lest, we leave this on a negative note, we have the hope of the gospel. Christ died to forgive us of our sin. To give us others-centered hearts. To call us to join Him in dying for our spouse. This too is incredibly hard work. Doing marriage on our own is hard because our sin persists. Doing marriage with Jesus is hard, because He calls us to die. However, dying with Jesus allows us to experience the hope of the resurrection–in life and in our marriage. Marriage is hard, but the gospel offers hope.

 

Extra Soccer Practice

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” ESV Luke 19:5

Monday and Thursdays are soccer practice nights. 2.5 hours worth. The first half is with my daughter’s team, followed by another hour and a quarter with my son’s team. I enjoy it. It’s fun to pour into 20+ kids. It’s a challenge to help them improve in their skills. It’s fun to build a team. However, when 8:00 comes, I’m ready to be done. My other son practices until 8:20, so that final 20 minutes is usually my Facebook time or email time. Until tonight. My son and daughter wanted to stay late and shoot on me. I hate playing goalie. I stayed. They loved it. Of course.

As we played I noticed how much they came alive. It was just me and them. One on one for each shot. Yes, I had spent two and half hours being super-dad. Coaching. Being with my kids. But I wasn’t directly pouring into them. For those final minutes tonight, I was in the moment with them. Only three of us on a huge lit soccer field. Special. Perhaps like when Jesus stopped, looked up in the tree and told Zacchaeus He had to go to his house. Yes, Jesus was interacting with the crowds. Yes, He was impacting lots of people (including Zacchaeus). But suddenly, Jesus stopped. He chose a personal interaction. Perhaps being a parent calls us not only to do all the parenting things of hosting sleepovers, coaching teams, shuttling kids around, doing homework, but also choosing certain moments to zero in on our kids. Maybe we don’t have a deep conversation in the moment or really do anything, but perhaps we touch our kids in a unique way.

It was only 15 minutes. Before I was ready to leave, they were. They were cold. Wanted to get in the van and wait for their brother. But they were happy. Content. We had bonded. Part of our spiritual formation involves being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading to focus in on personal time with people, especially our kids at given moments. Yes, most of our lives are lived in the context of family, doing things with larger groups. But sometimes God calls us to extra soccer practice. To give our undivided attention. Embrace those opportunities.

Working for Others

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ESV Philippians 2:4

We tend to work for ourselves. We work to get paid. We work to get promoted. We try to finish projects so we can go home. In fact, it seems counter-intuitive to think that we should actually work for others. Why would we work for others to make money? Why would we try to help others get promoted (unless they in turn promote us). Why would we finish projects for others to go home? Ultimately, our spiritual formation will change the way we work from self-centered to others-centered.

As we study the Bible, our theology changes. As our theology changes, our actions should as well. Gradually, bit by bit, we God forms us into the image of His Son Jesus. One of the greatest changes that takes place regards the way we work. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. He came not to work for Himself, but to do the will of His Father. He came not to bask in glory, but to redeem humanity. He came on mission. Is it any surprise that He would call us to the same? That He would call us to work for the good of others. To be concerned about the company’s bottom line rather than our own. To be concerned about promoting the best person for the job rather than just landing a promotion for ourselves. To be concerned about getting everyone home to their families rather than just serving our own interests. As we focus on the person and work of Jesus, we will notice our own work habits change. Hopefully, others will as well, and in the process we will be able to introduce more people to Jesus Christ.

What is your motivation for work this week? What are your goals? Do you simply desire a paycheck? A promotion? To finish the week on Friday? What if instead you focused this week on helping a co-worker succeed? What if you focused on significantly saving money or resources for your organization. What if you voluntarily took on a greater workload for the good of the team? As we lead like Jesus, we draw others to Jesus. That’s the point of work after all. Consider others better than ourselves and aim to serve rather than be served.

Essential Christianity

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures… ESV 1 Corinthians 15:3

What are essential parts of what being a Christian means to you? Respondents to a PewResearch survey (as quoted in Facts and Trends), listed a variety of responses. Topping the list is “Believing in God” (86%), followed closely by “Being grateful for what you have” (71%) and “Forgiving those who have wronged you” (69%). “Reading the Bible” (42%), “Attending religious services” (35%), and “Helping out in you congregation” (28%) made the middle of the list. At the bottom sat “Living a healthy lifestyle” and “Resting on the Sabbath” (both 18%), and “Buying from companies that pay fair wages” (14%). While apparently polling those who self-identify as Christians (regardless of their faith in Christ), the survey made me think.

What are the essential parts of being a Christian to me? First would have to be the gospel itself: Christ died for my sins according to the Scripture. He was buried and raised the third day. For me (and I think Biblically for all) therein lies the most essential element of Christianity–actually the definition of Christianity. Regardless of if one identifies as a Christian, they can only be one through faith in Christ Jesus apart from works. That being said, Christ calls us to follow Him. How is it that some of the things He commands become essential to our faith, while others don’t? Could it be that while claiming allegiance to Christ, we are in reality more aligned with our own culture? I’ve been told everything used to shut down on Sundays. Everyone attended church. While I don’t believe everyone in America were true believers, it was more culturally appropriate to attend church and keep the Sabbath. Could it be that as the culture has changed, what we consider to be “essential” has changed as well? Keeping the Sabbath is one of the ten commandments. We should be careful lest adultery or murder be accepted! I also find it interesting that fewer than half the respondents considered Bible reading essential. If Christ’s death and resurrection are “according to the Scriptures” then I would have to list those as essential to my faith.

It’s worth considering. Are you a follower of Christ? If so, what elements of your faith are essential? What elements are nonessential? It’s worth considering as part of your spiritual formation.

Well-fed, Lusty Stallions

When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores. They were well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife. ESV Jeremiah 5:7-8

Have you noticed that the more God blesses you, the less you appreciate Him? When facing life’s challenges, we cry to God for help. When our health fails, we seek His face. When difficult decisions loom, we seek direction in His Word. However, once He gives direction, restores our health and lifts the burdens of life, I often find myself with less time for God than when things were tough. What gives?

On my drive home tonight I was listening to the book of Jeremiah, and the verses above really made an impression on me. God acknowledged that He “fed them to the full,” and they responded by trooping “to the houses of whores.” How could that be? In the next verse, God grows more graphic by comparing Israel to well-fed lusty stallions in the prime of life. Well-fed by God. Strengthened by God. Equipped by God. And focused on committing adultery. Neighing for his neighbor’s wife. Desiring idolatrous, sinful pleasure instead of worshiping the God who fed them to the full. These verses pricked my heart. The more God blesses me, restores me, guides me, the more I tend to stray into apathy, self-centeredness and other sins. Like the writer of Proverbs, I tend to deny any blessings in my life directly flow from God Himself. Somehow, in my dark times I recognize my need for God, but when He blesses me, I take credit for the blessings and assume they happened because of my own greatness. In my pride, I tend to turn away from God.

I try to take stock of my soul on Saturdays. It’s a good day to rest, take Sabbath, and ensure I still recognize every blessing comes from God. Too often I become a well-fed lusty stallion, neighing for anything but the God who fed me. Too often I forget the sacrifice of Jesus and that any righteousness in my life comes from Him alone. Too often I fail to give thanks for the blessings. What about you? Has God blessed you? Have His blessings drawn your heart toward Him? Take time today to search your heart and be thankful, lest you become a well-fed lusty stallion, neighing for anything but God.

One Step Forward

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. ESV Genesis 2:15

I take Fridays to review my management of the stuff God has entrusted to me: time, money and possessions. The process allows me to reflect on my use of time (trying not to waste any), my use of money (is it invested and budgeted and enjoyed well?) and all my stuff (which I usually have too much of). God will ask me to give an account of how I managed these things, so a weekly check is worthwhile. Frustratingly, it seems when I reflect on these things each week, I realize I used most of my time and money to simply maintain my stuff. Washing dishes, doing laundry, buying food for the family, changing the oil, mowing the grass…these things consume my time and money. It doesn’t seem like they are invested well.

Theologically, we perform a lot of maintenance. God called us to. At creation He commanded the man to “keep” the garden. The word has the idea of “maintaining” or “protecting.” In that sense, changing oil, cutting grass, buying groceries, all “keep” our world together. However, God also called us to “work” the earth. Our time, money and stuff should be invested to create more for God’s kingdom. We should invest our money in the kingdom, use our stuff to win others to the Lord, and use our time to spread the gospel. Unfortunately, most of my time, effort and money goes into maintenance. That’s where I’ve found this simple goal: take one step forward each week. It’s pretty simple really. Mowing the grass is maintenance…it has to be done weekly. As is laundry, cooking, cleaning, and nearly everything else I do. However, each week, I attempt to advance one small project. My week is successful if I paint a new wall, de-clutter the work bench, or do a work project for an unsaved neighbor. These are the small ways I “work” my time, money and stuff.

What about you? Are you consumed with simply maintaining in life? Treading water? Survival? Try this tactic: take one step forward this week. Give some money away. Do one project for a friend. Tackle one project that improves your life. One step a week is 52 steps a year, and that’s progress my friend!

Loving People

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. ESV 1 John 4:7

I sat yesterday and chatted with a friend. We are roughly the same age. He has four kids, I have five. We have similar height, weight and hair color. In other ways, we couldn’t be more different. He’s single; I’m married. He’s struggling to find a job; I’m employed. Finally, there are ways we are similar–yet different. He’s educated in the streets; I’m educated in school. He’s had a drug problem for 20 years; I’ve had a pride and people-pleasing problem for 20 years. Finally, we both love Jesus and are growing to love Him more each day. In that regard we have a lot in common…loving Jesus, and occasionally falling away from Him…and then getting back into following Him. My friend and I really aren’t all that different.

I ask myself how I can consider myself similar to someone who has overdosed at least 15 times and should be dead now. Perhaps the gospel is slowly allowing me to come to grips with my own sinfulness. My spiritual pride in a way overdosed me spiritually numerous times convincing me I was better than everyone else and cutting me off from the true love and forgiveness found in the gospel. In terms of distance from God, me and my friend were kind of equally distant…just on opposite ends of the spectrum. As we talked yesterday, I felt he and I both are growing in our understanding of the gospel. As we grow there, we grow in our love for one another. We truly can’t love others until we have understood and are secure in God’s love for us. Only then can we respond in love for others.

My wife just led a women’s retreat that focused on “Living Loved.” She sat in on a small group where some of the women were sharing how loved (and not loved) they felt by God. Hearing those testimonies confirmed what I’ve written above. We can only love others when we know how much we are loved by God in Christ. If you struggle with judging others, may you come to know the love Christ Jesus has for you. Only by experiencing His love for you will you be set free to love. Embrace His love my friend!

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