Striving Together

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…”  (Hebrews 4.11)

One of the blessings of this interruption has been to watch friends and families do more together.  Playing board games, going for walks, and eating together (all within socially safe distance of course!).  As a relationship guy that encourages my heart.  It’s great to see us pulling together, but there’s also something that can pull us apart, namely-striving.  Striving is a buzz word for Christians, however striving to a psychologist is very important.  In Psychology, the practitioner is interested in how you push yourself through challenges and changes.  To make life a little more interesting, we all strive a little differently.   So, in the course of this big challenge our close friends and family will strive differently from us.  Some people will strive by reading everything they can find on the virus.  Another group will not want to read anything.  Close friends may want to talk it, while others won’t talk at all.  One group will stockpile goods, and another will resist that.  Chances are if you are sharing life with a person who strives differently eventually there will be a collision.  The difference will become an irritant.  So, what can we do about that?

  1. Get grace! Hebrews 4 concludes with an incredible invitation: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  We need that grace so we can practice point 2.
  2. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you… After studying thousands of couples, Dr. John Gottman discovered that nearly 2/3 of relationship conflict is about perpetual, unsolvable problems. This doesn’t prevent happy relationships—it’s how couples manage perpetual problems that makes the difference. (see: https://www.gottman.com/blog/reaching-compromise-second-part-state-union-meeting/)
  3. Receive the difference as a gift. Our thinking typically has bookends to it.  We know where we are stuck and we mentally project to a point we’d like to get to.  Then, that becomes our mental focus.  However, it is limited.  It’s just one possibility.  That’s where we can get stuck in our thinking and irritated by someone who thinks differently.  But, having relationships with different kinds of thinkers can liberate us from that entrenchment, IF we can accept their approaches as a potential gift to us.

This virus has demanded massive amounts of striving from all of us.  Let’s not forget that we are in this together.  That each of us may hold an encouragement, idea or plan that helps us negotiate the challenges more gracefully.

Holy Interruption…What Do We Do Now?

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. (Proverbs 16.9)

One of the first things mom drilled into my head was, “DO NOT interrupt others!”.  I still hear her voice in the back of my head!  So, God must not have had that conversation with my mom because He interrupts all the time!  For example, Noah, stop what you are doing.  No more normal life.  Instead you’ll build an ark.  Moses you are done with shepherding, it’s time to become Israel’s deliverer.  Esther you might think you want a simple life, but off to the palace you go.  The disciples?  They were expected to drop their nets and follow.  Interruptions everywhere!  As for Jesus, it appears that his earthly ministry was a parade of interruptions.  A quick count of Mark’s sixteen chapters produces at least 32 different interruptions.  The fact is Jesus’ interruptions had interruptions!

So fast forward to today.  Feel like your life is interrupted?  NBA interrupted.  NHL interrupted.  Caribou coffee interrupted.  Work interrupted.  School interrupted.  In the midst of all these interruptions what are we to do?  Short answer-allow God to direct our steps.  Before I expand on that, let me say clearly that I am not saying God sent this virus.  But I will also say that God absolutely knows all about the virus.  He’s not caught unaware.  We were.  Since He knows all about it, He may have a pretty good idea of how to help us walk through it.  That’s where the direction of steps is important.  That’s where what feels like an interruption to us, will actually be a course correction from Him.

So, to help you discern let me offer you four features of a divine interruption:

  • A divine interruption grabs our attention.  For example, Moses needed to see why the burning bush didn’t consume itself. It captured his attention (Ex. 3.3).
  • A divine interruption has a compelling nudge to it. (See Paul in Acts 16.6-10)
  • A divine interruption gives us our next step. (The disciples in Mt. 4.19-22)
  • A divine interruption doesn’t provide the complete plan just what you need to know now. (Abram in Gen. 12.4)

Now it’s not essential to have all four of these markers evident in a divine interruption.  God’s aim is to get your attention and shift your direction.  But here’s the sobering question: will we be available to God?  In Isaiah 6.8, there is a picture of a very rare quandary in God’s throne room.  The prophet writes, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Do you see it?  God is wondering aloud about who will go?  God has a plan.  God has the provision.  It comes down to who will be willing to go.  Isaiah responds in a way that I imagine all heaven applauded, “Here I am.  Send me.”  Beautiful!

Chances are, in this crazy big interruption God has some smaller interruptions He’d like us to attend to.  Keep your eyes open and your hearts ready!  Send heaven into thunderous cheering as you say, “Here I am Lord.  Send me.”

 

PS: If you are interested, a more expansive sermon on this topic was preached at City Hill Fellowship.  See: https://www.facebook.com/cityhillchurch.ep/videos/807193710100974/?t=0

Then…

6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 

(Philippians 4.6-7)

I woke up last night at 1:30 am.  Wide awake, my brain running at about 110 MPH.  It was screaming with thoughts.  I was taking mental inventories of how much food we had and how long that could last.  Then I moved to electricity and heat.  What if that goes down?!  Now my brain was bouncing like a ping pong ball.  This concern.  That person.  What about this?  What about that?  I tried to turn it off.  That didn’t work.  I pretended it wasn’t happening.  Believe it or not that didn’t work either.  I tossed.  I turned.  Then I remembered- “then”.  Look at Philippians 4.7.  It begins with the word “then”.  Then means there is an “if” somewhere.  Sure enough, there it is in verse 6.  If I trade my worry for prayer, telling God what I need AND thank Him for what He’s done; “then”.

I am fairly certain I’m not a well-practiced worrier.  But I was practicing last night.  Do you know why?  I was concerned about another word in Philippians 4.7-guard.  The word guard is a military word.  Picture the soldier outside of camp “standing guard”.  I was fretting over who was guarding me in the midst of this mess.  That’s exactly what Paul is addressing here, God’s peace will stand guard over your heart and mind!  Wow.  That’s what I want.  No, that’s what I need.  The beautiful thing here is that it exceeds all of my understanding.  I don’t have to have it all figured out to experience peace!  That’s so helpful to me because internally I like to have a pretty good idea of where all this is going before I let go and let God.  Paul is preaching to me, “it’s not dependent on your understanding Mark.  Hand it over to God.  Thank Him for all that He has done so far.  Then let the peace of Christ stand guard.”

Finally, what I love about this passage is that this is not written from a guy in an ivory tower.  It’s Paul in jail!  Not a fun place.  Prison would give me a lot of fodder to worry on.  Yet here is a guy who has discovered the spiritual secret to overcoming worry and panic.  It’s all right here in Philippians.  Stress tested and found reliable.  What a joy!

You may be holding up a little better than me.  I hope so.  Nevertheless, every soul craves a faithful guard that provides a sense of peace.  Paul provides answers to that end.  Be sure to practice them!  When worry hits turn it into your prayer list.  Don’t forget to say thank you.  “Thank you’s” remind you of how many ways God has answered your prayers in the past.  That will give you a shot of hope for the future.  Then, there’s that word again, let the peace of God stand guard over your heart and mind.  Peace be with you!

 

It’s a new day…so do old things.

Living in the information age certainly has its downside doesn’t it?  Much like the housing collapse of 2008, this COVID-19 virus blindsided us and flipped our worlds upside down.  But, true to the age we live in, there is no lack of information.  Just one Goggle search this morning produced 4,320,000,000 results in 0.55 seconds!  I risk suggesting that perhaps we don’t need any more information.  What we may need is something to calm our troubled hearts.  My suggestion is to do some old things.  A simple daily practice.  You can find a broader context for this practice in the sermon I gave last week (https://vimeo.com/397723393).

Here’s the idea in a nutshell.  Psalm 23:6 declares, “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”  There’s a lot of historians that believe David wrote this Psalm later in his life.  Quite likely when he was in exile after his son Absolom decided to launch a coup.  Suffice it to say, if that’s true, there weren’t a lot of easily discovered places goodness and mercy followed David in that season.   But they were there!  David just needed to carefully look for them.  It’s in the recognition of God’s daily mercies that one can take heart-even in the most challenging times.  Far too much focus can fall on the challenges of our day.  Why not devote some attention to discovering God’s goodness and mercy that has pursued you each day?

So tonight, as you lay down, look back and ask God to show you His goodness and mercy.  Last night Betsy and I practiced this.  Just listening to her account calmed my soul.  It wasn’t all earth-shattering movements.  It was things like noticing the joyful song of a cardinal and having an opportunity to calm someone’s fears.  The power is not always in the size of the gift but rather in seeing the presence of the Giver.  It’s an old practice but certainly worth a new try.

“It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.”
(Psalm 92:1-2)

A Christmas Reading

Some folks at this morning’s Christmas service requested a copy of my reading.  Here it is and Merry Christmas!

IN THE BEGINNING… when God carefully sculpted the world; it was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  No sickness, no sorrow, no pain, no tears.  Pure and perfect.  Faultless and mess-free.

Then, He risked the ultimate risk…He gave it…to us…and we wandered and created more messes than a busy unsupervised two-year-old.  Wars, lies, finger-pointing and shame. We made an absolute mess of things in no time.

But God wasn’t surprised…he had a plan.  True, it was an unlikely plan…one that would at first appear to be adding to the mess.

A young girl’s wedding plans would get messed up.

Her fiancé’s reputation would get a little messy as well.

The Pharisees would see the whole idea as too messy.

Herod would do his best to make a mess of it but to no avail…because no one absolutely no one can mess with God’s plans.

Especially this plan….because God so loved the mess makers that he sent his only begotten son into the mess.

We should have recognized it right away…because the Savior wasn’t born in a hospital, house, or hotel…but a barn???  A very messy barn.

How many of you have those manger scenes at home with the perfectly sculpted figures…absolutely clean of dirt, dung and dust.  They look so beautiful and majestic….so pure and pristine.

THAT’S NOT where this King was born.  He was born right in the mess…a barn.  A dark, dingy, smelly, crowded messy barn.

But why???  Did God the Father mess up?

Did Joseph and Mary get lost in the mess?

Was the Inn Keeper trying to mess with them?

No…God is sending a clear, clean message.

You see the barn birth shouts to us— I AM NOT AFRAID OF MESSES!!!

I will come to your mess. I will sit with you in your mess.  And ultimately, I will deliver you of your mess.

That deliverance will be considerably more messy than anyone would have guessed.  There will be chaos, accusations, betrayal, beatings, and death…ONE DEATH.  But it WILL END THE MESS.  It is finished!

Never again are we hopelessly trapped by our mess.  He who was born in the midst of it promises to save us from all our messes…we simply have to open the doors of our messed up hearts…and say, “come Lord Jesus into this mess once again”.

And the King, who fears no mess sets us free indeed.  And that is the greatest of all gifts this Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

Busyness vs. Hurriedness

Some time ago I was invited to talk to a class full of budding pastors.  What they wanted to know from me is how to have a fruitful and enduring ministry.  While visiting the class I listed a few points, but concluded by saying, “all these don’t matter if you don’t pay attention to this one thing.”  Students leaned forward in their chairs, pens ready to record this one great secret.  I told them, “nothing else will matter if you don’t learn to master hurry.” You could see their faces register immediate disappointment.  That’s it???  One student raised their hand declaring, “Jesus was really busy!”  I answered, “he was indeed…but he was never…I repeat never…led by hurry.”.  Another student queried, “well is there a difference between being hurried and being busy?”  “Absolutely”, I replied.  Let me tell you what I offered to them.

Busyness slides into hurriedness when we let outward demands conquer our inner person.  We lose a sense of who we are, why we are doing what we are doing and ultimately for who we are doing it.  John Ortberg says, “Busyness migrates to hurry when we let it squeeze God out of our lives.”

So, for Jesus (who was really busy!) he rose early in the day to gain a clear sense of balance (see Luke 5:16).  The demands he encountered were met with a recharged soul not a frantic scrambling.  In like fashion, we need to have regular practices that help nurture and care for our inner person.  One way to think about this is that our “output” must be ruled and managed by our “input”.  Often times we are given job descriptions that are impossibly busy so we take time management courses, or get administrative tips.  Those will help some, but hurriedness will win the day if we don’t learn to pace from within.

Over the next few posts I will offer you a few things to consider in the battle with hurriedness.  But for now, ask yourself this question, “do I know how to be still from within?”   We all know calm people, but do we know how to carry around some quiet? Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are learning!  Hopefully these next posts will help.

Tis the season to watch for hurry

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4.11)

You should take another glance at that verse.  It is a weird concept: “make every effort…to enter that rest…”  Effort and rest.  Hmmm.  Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?  Effort and rest.  Yet amid this biblical parody lies one of the greatest keys to our spiritual growth; we must learn to pace.

John Ortberg tells a story illustrating our need to pace well.  He writes, “When we moved to Chicago, we had little kids. The pace of our lives had accelerated tremendously. I called Dallas Willard, the wisest person about spiritual life that I know, and described to him kind of what was going on in our lives, and asked, “What do I need to do if I want to be spiritually healthy and alive and vital? What do I need to do?”  It was a long pause, and then he just came up with this sentence I have never forgotten. He said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Then there was another long pause, and then I said, “Okay, what else have you got because I don’t have a lot of time and I want as much wisdom as I can get out of you in these few moments.” Then there was another long pause, and he said, “There is nothing else.” He said, “Hurry is the greatest enemy of our spiritual life today.

So, we must eliminate hurry if we want to find life.  I remember reading a missionaries account while ministering in Africa.  They had been invited into an unreached area, but this required a huge effort of mobilization.  The terrain was challenging and the time was short.  While traveling, the missionary pushed the team hard.  They were hurried.  After three days of this frenzied effort all the African helpers suddenly dropped what they were carrying and sat down.  The missionary panicked and instructed the interpreter to find out what was going on.  The Africans responded by saying, “they are sitting down waiting for their souls to catch up”!  They were about the business of ruthlessly eliminating hurry from their lives.

Christmas is typically a hectic season for many.  This provides a great learning venue for us to practice pace.  Are you up for it?  In the next few posts I’ll offer some tips in how to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from our lives.