Monday, September 28, 2009

What Time Is It?

He was two when he began to ask with incessant persistence, "Momma what time is it?" By three we had taught him how to decipher the numbers on a digital clock face and not much more than three and a half years had passed before he could read the face of any time telling device with mastery. My eldest son was desperate to know exactly what time it was and precisely what we would be doing at that exact time. Affectionately I refer to him as my palm pilot and still six years later he can tell you to the minute when the Georgia Bulldogs will play their next game and what exact hour and minute he awoke on any given day. To him, life is a series of appointments and he doesn't want to miss a single one. Never one to linger longer than the next appointment will allow, he watches the clock like my chocolate lab watches my hand when a treat hangs in the balance. Just last week I had scheduled a necessary doctor's visit--one I had of course put off longer than I should. On Tuesday I panicked. It was 11:30 and I thought surely I had missed my appointment which was at 10:30. The boys and I were snuggled on the couch pouring over some incredible book about civilizations thousands of years past this calendar day. "Nathan," I instinctively yelped. "My appointment. I missed it." How in the world could I have done something so reckless? The appointment I had procrastinated in making I had now completely missed. The boxing gloves were on and I was pummeling myself in the face and over the head. Why can't I keep my appointments and responsibilities straight? Why am I not a better multi-tasker? Naturally and calmly he grabbed the calendar from a stack of papers and on closer examination we realized I had two more days. The appointment was Thursday. I made it to the appointment. See I tend to be the polar opposite of my son the digital agenda book in human form. I tend to multiple book myself and then wonder why I'm late for everything. And the truth be told if I only book one thing, well, I'm still probably going to be late. I rarely arrive early and I rarely leave early once I've arrived. There are self-help books written for people like me. I've read a few. The next book I plan to read is called, "Balancing Life, Arriving on Time, Looking Great, Eating Great, Being Great, Staying in Shape, Eating Healthy, Saving Your Family Money, Having Girl Time, Having Date Nights, Having Mommy-Son Time, Having God Time, You Too Can Achieve The Balanced Life." But I can't find it in the library search engine. I'll just say from the get-go here that I've met people who are pretty close to qualified to write a book like that. I have. But they are few and they are far between, and I've never looked deeply inside their lives to comment on how it's really going for them while they juggle ten thousand plates. I don't know if any of their plates have come crashing down in a thousands shreds of ironstone about their wrestless feet. It may in fact be very well with their soul. But I think it's pretty safe to say that the vast majority of us may instead find ourselves wondering how in the world do I achieve balance in a world where the demands are incredibly overwhelming and loud? Ecclesiastes 3 says, "For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth." This past summer while watching as my little men splashed in the county's L-shaped concrete pool my mother said she'd heard a novel message about balance in the Christian life. I wish I could offer credit here to the guy with the new idea, but I don't think she told me his name. And if she did share it with me it is entirely possible that I cursed and spit it out before letting it sink into the long-term memory of my little brain because what busy mother of two boys and wife and sister and daughter and well, you know what I mean, what person wants to hear more about balance? The whole Proverbs 31 evangelicalistic notion that women can do and be everything for everyone can be wearisome to those of us who are natural Martha's as it is. Frankly, there are times when those messages leave us utterly defeated in a heap before our heavenly Father confessing our inadequacies and failures to Him once again. (Hey, I didn't really curse, guys...that was a joke.) "Rhythms," my mom informed me "are what the Christian life is all about. Not balance." Now, I was listening. This was something new to me. As a homeschooling mom, I'd been pondering the idea of the natural rhythm of our family--learning the rhythm, dancing the rhythm, but I'd never consider it's application outside of that arena. She mentioned the passage in Ecclesiastes 3: "For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth." She talked about how this man said that the idea of achieving perfect balance wasn't even biblical. Where in the Bible did Jesus exercise balance on earth? He preached to exhaustion and then recuperated in mountainside prayer retreats. He preached until long after the noon hour when the crowd was famished and then, he fed them 'til they were stuffed and there were baskets of food left over. He didn't politely instruct the marketeers defiling the temple that he'd like them to please leave quietly through the left side exit. He turned their money-changing tables upside down and kicked them out on their little hinies. He called stinking dead people from tombs and raised them to new life and He prayed not a little while, but all night at times. Then, he praised Mary for sitting on her duff the entire time He visited saying she chose the more excellent way. Balance? Is it possible that balance is another legalistic man-made attempt at trying to attain perfection and even dare I say it, rightness before God and man when in fact what we are reaching for is unattainable by those of us limited by a human body? (That's all of us.) I'm just asking. Could balance be Satan's newest serpent slithering about the fruit trees of our lives saying, "Are you sure you can't have it all?" And I'm asking because I have to tell you that I've run on the treadmill of the Christian life for many years and I'm watching others run on it now. The problem with running on treadmills is that you don't really get anywhere and if you quit running, you end out moving rapidly backwards until you fall. I'm not into treadmill spirituality. Not anymore. In Christian circles the treadmill runners are often praised for their endurance and commitment, but if they dare stop moving their entire life comes crashing down. I don't know if that's the right idea. I really don't. And I have to wonder what the heart of God is feeling when He gazes at His beautiful creations in heaps before His feet feeling defeated and like failures. Surely He is grieved. So going back to that small verse in Ecclesiastes penned by the inspiration of God, apparently there's an appointment for everything in our lives. And if there's one thing I have learned it's that you when you double-book yourself, you end out missing one appointment or the other. So, is it possible that God's intention for mankind was to dance the rhythm of life--at times fast, at times slow making one appointment at a time? An appointment for healing, an appointment for planting an appointment for uprooting? Was it perhaps God's intention that we live in the freedom of ceasing the juggling act and instead picking up one plate at a time--two if our hands will hold them and that's all? What would it look like if Christians everywhere quit running the treadmill of balance and instead said without apology, "I'm a mother and wife for the next several years so if you want to make it into my palm pilot you'll need to get in line and be ready for a wait because it's going to be a while before I can get to you too." What if Father's said, "I'm a daddy and a husband and so if you want me you'll have to line up behind my wife and kids." Ministries would end. But then maybe we wouldn't need the ministries because we would be making the appointments God already set for us. The face of churches would change. The face of neighborhoods would too though. Because when have you ever looked at a person panting their last breaths on a treadmill and thought that's exactly where I want to be? That's no great advertisement for following the way of Jesus. But when a neighbor sees a family in the backyard throwing the football together, laughing and enjoying their appointment to be a family, well, that is something utterly enticing, now isn't it? Listen. I'm not saying I've gotten anything figured out. I'm just asking the question--is balance biblical? And I don't want pat, pre-fab unthought out answers. This is an invitation to climb out of the "this is what a Christian looks like" box and allow God to speak. Let's just ask Him together, shall we, and see where we land? Pray with me: Lord, show us your heart. Show me what exactly it is that you desire for my life and the lives of those around me. Show us Lord, the appointments for which we were created and empower us to walk away from ideas that are not contained in your heart. Amen.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Are You Striving?

The school year and a full season of family getting together, apples bobbed and birthday songs sung, curriculum and gardens,--they've all left me with little time for recording here the words God speaks to my heart. And today is as full as all the rest so I'll only tell you briefly the outline of a melody I pray God is setting to music within me. The book of Zephaniah is a short one--short enough for me to read each day for a while now. And a beloved sister in Christ shared a verse recently in her own blog that turned me onto the book. ( There's this third verse in the second chapter that gives me pause when I pass through. "Seek the Lord's favor, all you humble people of the land who have obeyed his commands! Strive to do what is right! Strive to be humble! Maybe you will be protected on the day of the Lord's angry judgment." And I can't help but wonder how many of us are committing our lives to seeking God's favor. I can't help but ask how many of us are waking up each day insisting it is a fresh start and that today, on this new day, we will strive to do the right thing. Today we will strive for humility and pray for God's protection. I can't help but consider how many of my greatest efforts include striving and seeking after God. And I can't help but picture Jesus, hands pierced, side scarred at the right side of God uttering prayers so intense, so full of pleadings and grief saying, "Father, Father let them cease. It was already finished so long ago. I paid for this already, Father. I ended the striving. God, open their eyes that they might see the truth. Father, was my death in vain? Father, was the suffering in vain that they would walk still as uncertain, unloved people seeking the favor that was already bought with my life? God make them see." So often when we read old testament passages we take them to mean we too should follow their advice. In context though, they are generally the reality of the Israelites and if we continue on we will discover as is the case in Zephaniah, that God knew all along humanity would never attain his favor, would never measure up. We will discover that He had a plan to restore all mankind to himself that didn't include human effort. Towards the end of Zephaniah God starts talking about the bigger picture when he tells the Israelites that "they will find safety in the Lord's presence...they will graze peacefully like sheep and lie down; no one will terrify them." What a beautiful picture of peace--a sheep who grazes to fullness and lays himself down on a bed of sweet swaying grass! Sheep don't strive, they don't stress, they don't attempt and work. They eat, and they rest. Do I? Is that my life's chief purpose when I rise? To drink in the goodness and sweetness of my Father and to rest in His capable, powerful, loving, perfect character would appear to be all that He ever intended for me. Let me just say, Satan may not know you, but apparently he knows me well. He is very clear on one point with me--I tend to like to buy the striving material and ignore the resting stuff. I tend to love to work, to do, to aim for, to seek after and that is his golden ticket with me. It goes a little something like this: Sarah, why aren't you teaching Sunday School? Sarah, shouldn't you volunteer for the nursery? Sarah, shouldn't you make a cake for the ministry staff and drop it off at the church office? Sarah, shouldn't you pray longer? Sarah, why aren't you getting up even earlier--reading more scripture? Let me just be clear on this: acts birthed from guilt or obligation have not found their origin in a loving, living relationship with our Savior. It's as though he's literally saying, Sarah, God doesn't love you because He created you, He loves you when you do the right things. And that, my friends is a lie from the very pits of hell. He LOVES us because we are his fearfully and wonderfully made creation. He loves us because He invented LOVE, because to not love us would mean He was no longer God because GOD IS LOVE. We have His eternal favor because Jesus said one evening in a garden of surrender, "If it's possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will but thine be done." And then only hours later while breathing his last He said, "It is finished." In those moments the curtain in a temple that signified the holiness and righteousness of God and the pathetic attempts at reaching and appeasing Him, was literally shredded in half forever removing the barrier between us and our Father. Long ago, it was finished. Why in the world would we continue then, to bring modern day sheep and lamb and doves as offerings to a God who is no longer waiting in the holy of holies, but is literally walking beside us as we carry our ridiculous cages filled with atonement offerings to present before Him. He's not waiting at the alter for our efforts. He's just not there. He's not hungry for the aroma of burnt lamb, his nostrils are full of the fragrance of His Son and that is all he smells when we stand before Him clothed in the garments of our Savior. Zephaniah goes on to say, "Shout for joy, Daughter Zion! Shout out, Israel! Be happy and boast with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you; he has turned back your enemy. Israel's king, The LORD, is in your midst! You no longer need to fear disaster." To live as a sheep involves some serious release--release of our preconceived ideas of religion, of Christianity, of God. It also involves some letting go of our own personal pride--we'll never be good enough. We need to just decide that now. Never. We'll always come up short. So, we might as well stop trying. Here's the beauty though--a life that has ceased to try is free to be the new creation it already is in Christ. Yesterday the boys and I were bouncing on the trampoline. Up and down we bounced and bounced never really getting anywhere, just bouncing. Eventually I bounced myself into complete exhaustion and I lay down on that big stretchy black circle. I looked up and the leaves were floating in the sky, their green backs saturated with the sun. I thought what would it be like to hang from the branch with my only job being to take in The Son? There's something to be said for exhaustion--it forces us to lay down and look up. Pray with me: Lord, you already earned our favor before God. I'm so sorry for trying to continue to get what you already paid for. Show me where I'm striving and teach me to cease. Teach me to graze and rest in who you are. Let the rest be an overflow of that grazing and resting. Amen. Read with me: Romans 5:18-21 II Corinthians 5:17