Thursday, December 11, 2014

I AM JUST TOO BUSY

Psalm 46:10
    "Be still, and know that I am God;
        I will be exalted among the nations,
        I will be exalted in the earth."

                In the midst of this busy Christmas season, it is easy for me to tell myself, I am just too busy to take the time to do my devotions. After all, I have a sermon to write, a funeral to prepare, a men’s group to get ready for, and extra services to organize. I am just too busy.

                I felt that way, as I came into my office this morning. But, I sat down in my chair, opened my Bible and read Psalm 46. Vs. 10 jumped off of the page."Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." I was struck with the reality that nothing I have to do is more important than spending time with my Lord. Nothing is more important than reading the Bible and holding a conversation with God in prayer.

                I must confess that busyness is often just an excuse. I have time to do many things other than the projects I am working on for church. Yet, I can claim busyness as an excuse to not visit a shut-in or to not spend time really engaging in God’s Word. For me, at least, busyness is one of Satan’s most effective weapons. I can hide behind the fa├žade of busyness. I can use it as a protective shield to deflect interruptions to “my” schedule. It gives me a convenient excuse for inaction; an excuse that people will readily accept. No one seems to question busyness. Everyone seems to assume it.

                Jesus never let busyness rule his life. He was hard-pressed from dawn to dusk by people demanding his time and attention. Yet, Jesus was never in a hurry. He always found time to be alone with the Father. He always found time to engage in what was really important, not just what was demanding and urgent. While Jesus was on the way to minister to Jairus’ daughter, he took the time to stop and heal a woman who had been plagued by a bleeding disorder for twelve years. I am sure that Jairus was anxious, but Jesus was not. (Mark 5:21-36) When Jesus was eating dinner at the home of Mary and Martha, Martha was frantic about all that needed to be done. Mary, on the other hand, sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him. When Martha confronted Jesus with this injustice, Jesus told her to settle down, sit down and spent time with him. (Luke 10:38-42)

                The real issue is not action vs. inaction. It is purposeful action vs. frenetic activity. It is having the insight and wisdom to know what is most important and what is secondary. Let me give you two examples.

                Several years ago, early on a Sunday morning, a young man arrived to deliver the donuts for our coffee time. As he was about to leave, he knocked on my door and asked the inevitable question. “Are you busy.” My first response was, “yes, I am getting ready for the service.” I stopped and asked a couple of quick questions. He was struggling with his lack of desire for spiritual things. I arranged to meet him at a later date, and he went on his way. He never showed up for the appointment. I regret that I let busyness get in the way of a significant spiritual encounter.

                Yesterday, I was working on my sermon for Sunday, when a knock came at my door. It was a woman who I had worked with at the death of her mother. I invited her in and offered her a seat. She began to open up about some things that she was struggling with. We probably spent a half hour together. When she left, she thanked me for taking the time to talk with her, because, “I know how busy you are.” I was glad that I had set aside what I was doing to give this woman a listening ear.

                James says that man’s anger does not accomplish God’s purposes. (James 1:20) We could rightly insert the word busyness. Man’s busyness does not accomplish God’s purposes. If I am too busy to spent time reading God’s word and praying, then I am too busy. If am too busy to stop what I am doing and talk to a person in need, then I am too busy. If I am too busy to exercise and care for my physical body, as God desires, then I am too busy. Some of my most encouraging and meaningful encounters have happened when God interrupted my busy schedule. Someone has said that interruptions are often God’s divine appointments.          


                During this amazing, busy time of the year, I need to be intentional to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus. After all, is not that what Christmas is all about!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

EARLY IN THE MORNING

                I am not a classic morning person. It takes a hot shower and a cup of coffee to get me going. But I really like early mornings. I enjoy being the first one up in the house; when everything is quiet and before the busyness of the day has erupted. I enjoy being the first one to arrive at church, so I can have some genuine quiet time. I like seeing the first rays of the sun peaking over the horizon. I like early mornings.

                It all began back in college. I was the dining hall manager for breakfast. That meant that I had to be at the dining hall by 6:00 AM every morning to start the process of setting up for breakfast. I loved emerging from my dorm, after a fresh snowfall, and making the first set of footprints across campus. I would enter the quiet dining hall and begin arranging things for the morning; making coffee, arranging the carts of plates and silverware, checking in with the baker, and grabbing one of the first fresh donuts coming from his amazing machine. At about five minutes to seven my crew would come stumbling in. At 7:00 AM, I would unlock the doors for the first students. I have liked early morning ever since.

                When my children were still at home, I would get up early and make their breakfast, before they headed off to school. I still get up early to have my breakfast and to start my day with some quiet time with the Lord. I do not make it every morning, but the majority of the time I start my time in the office with devotions and prayer. It sets the tone for the rest of my day.

                The gospels tell us that Jesus used the early mornings as His time to be alone with the Father. Once the sun came up, Jesus was pressed, from all sides, by people demanding His attention. By evening, He was exhausted. Yet each day, He would rise early, to be refreshed and renewed for the challenges ahead of Him.

                Mark gives us a snapshot of Jesus’ daily experience in Mark 1:32-37.
                That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
                Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"

                Not everyone is at their best early in the morning, but, for me, it is the most refreshing time of the day. Most days are filled with demands, expectations and deadlines. There is always someone or something clamoring for your time and attention.  But early in the morning, it is quiet. The world is still. There is time for quiet reflection. There is time to get prepared to face the day.

Lamentations 3:22-23
    Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
        for his compassions never fail.
    They are new every morning;
        great is your faithfulness.

   


Thursday, December 4, 2014

THE GIFT OF FAMILY

Psalm 127:3-5
Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

                We gathered in the large room, filed with round tables and decorated for Thanksgiving. There was much small talk, as we greeted people we had not seen for some time. The word was given and we all found our places at the tables. Each place was marked with a leaf bearing a name. My three nieces, who shouldered the responsibility of organizing this event, took their place at the front of the room and greeted the assembled clan. Then, in turn, a member of each of the four generations represented there rose and asked a blessing on this significant event. We wiped tears from our eyes as the final Amen was said. Then we descended on the tables, laden with more food than we could possible consume. Our long awaited Thanksgiving reunion was underway. For the rest of the day we basked in the joy of a family gathered.

                In a world filled with disjointed, dysfunctional, wounded families, it is a unique experience to gather with four generations of one family, intact. I was able to reconnect with two cousins I had not seen in decades. I was able to spent time with both of my brothers and their families. I was able to relish moments with my parents, who are both in the late 80’s and doing remarkably well. For one week, we gathered in North Carolina and celebrated the gift of family.

                As I reflect upon my experience, I am struck by the enormous blessing I have been given. It is all too easy to take our family for granted, or worse to find fault with our family. But family is a gift that is to be treasured. It is the foundation for all civilization and culture. It is the training ground for life. It is the port in a storm that can give us the strength to go on. It is the place of joy that can enrich and enhance our lives. It can be all of these things and more, but it is not for far too many.

                For many people, family is a negative experience. It is a place of abuse and conflict. A place that drains, rather than sustains. A place to be avoided.

                That was never God’s design. God desires that we all find our place in His family. In our human efforts, we fall short of God’s design and intent. But God has provided a place for all who will take it, in His family. In Christ, we belong, we are valued, we are safe. Through faith in Christ, we can transform our natural families into supernatural families; families connected by more than genetics. We can enter into a eternal family that will never pass away. It has been may privilege to experience both an intact, healthy natural family and God’s eternal family. For those who have not shared in my blessing, there is hope. That hope is found in Christ Jesus.

                As the Apostle John wrote to a group of oppressed and possibly discouraged people, he extended an amazing word of hope. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3

                John’s words of hope are great news for all of us, but especially for those who feel abandoned, abused and rejected. We belong! We have a place! We are loved! When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s forever family. We move from a life dominated by darkness into the light of the glory of God. We have hope for the future and for eternity. The resources that we need to face the challenges of life are available to us, in abundance. All we have to do is ask.

                My family experienced an amazing gift this past Thanksgiving; an unprecedented gathering of family. As we gathered in worship on Sunday morning, I was aware that our gift is enhanced, enriched  and expanded by our family of faith. Membership in that family is open to all who will accept Jesus’ invitation to come in.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9-10