Tuesday, February 28, 2012

THE BETTER THING


Luke 10:
   41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”



Mary teaches us that sitting is better than bustling—listening better than muttering. In church history, the contemplative tradition focuses on turning a loving gaze towards Jesus.

Meditation is another valuable practice when we focus our mind on analysis and understanding of God’s truth. But contemplation is less about what you are thinking and more about a place in your heart before God.

From the Latin word contemplatio comes the meaning of a cleared space before an altar.

Mary is an example of contemplation. The better thing in our lives for God is being with God. Martha chose doing work for God over being still with God.

There are things that can be taken away from us. Our work, our home, our titles… but nothing can separate us from the love of God found in Jesus.

God is in the house. Come out of the workroom and sit with Him.

St. Teresa said:

 'Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.' Contemplative prayer seeks him 'whom my soul loves'. It is Jesus, and in him, the Father. We seek him, because to desire him is always the beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of him and to live in him. In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but our attention is fixed on the Lord himself."[i]


Friday, February 24, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: PASTORS IN THE CLASSICS

Please allow me a moment of confession here. I am terribly under-nourished in my diet of world  literature. 


However, this book has piqued my curiosity for the wealth of stories that feature a clergy member as a prominent character.


This book gave me familiarity with the setting and plot summary of many infamous works of literature. Pastors, priests, chaplains and bishops are scrutinized in many cultures for the values they hold and the trust given to them.


This book points us to a cast of saints and sinners, meek and arrogant, noble and despicable. The preacher is often a caricature and fine literature draws us into the subtleties of their flesh and spirit.


Besides serving as a reference to the clergy story, this book points to the spiritual underpinning and tensions associated with the call to ministry. 


Helpful discussion questions make this book an excellent resource for the student of literature or reading club.




____________________________________________________



"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

SOMETHING BETTER THAN EXCELLENCE



Luke 10:
 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
   41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”




As for the matter of hospitality, Jesus wants Martha to know that there is something better than getting everything right. It does not have to be elaborate and finely crafted. Simple is good, too.



As the host of the church house, I am sometimes tempted by Martha-like frustrations. I want to serve up a sermon that sizzles on cue. I want to lead worship that is dynamic and moves people. I want the croissants to be fresh and the parking lot to be plowed.

If I am not careful about my focus, I might spoil the mood in the room with anxiety, projecting helplessness and assigning blame on others.

Jesus points multi-troubled Martha to uni-focused Mary.

There is only one important thing in this context. Hospitality is not about Martha’s standards of excellence, but upon whom hospitality is focused. It is personal and Mary set everything aside to be at Jesus’ feet.

The best thing about hospitality is paying attention to who is present. That love outlasts the complex arrangements and will be remembered longer.

Recently David Adcock shared stories at our District Community Builders Retreat. David served as director at Yonge St. Mission in Toronto for thirteen years. One young woman from the streets told him why she preferred their mission to other government-supported services. Here, she had a name and was genuinely loved. When she would leave the room, the mission workers would not use the edge of their shirt to handle the doorknob after she touched it.

In their computer lab at the mission, one woman who worked there soon had children lining up for a hug before or after they used the workstations. The difference is not great services—it is loving attention that defines genuine care and hospitality.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

HEAD TO HEAD


Martha is the head of her home and Jesus is the head of the disciples. We see this is a head to head conflict. In such an event, people around are receiving a teaching moment.

When the person you look up to has a problem, you learn from their approach to handling it.

Children and relatives watch how dad and mom resolve conflicts. Employees watch their boss. Students watch their teachers and people watch their pastors. Someone is watching and learning from your way of handling anxiety and pressure.

Jesus looks at Martha and responds directly.

Luke 10:
   41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

In the repetition of her name, Jesus speaks directly. He does not sweep the concern under the rug, but wants to be clear about speaking to the one in the room who was exercised her power.

This is Jesus’ friend. Perhaps his tone is saying more than the words. She may be frustrated but Jesus does not have to snap back.

The problem is not her workload. The issue is Martha’s feelings of anxiety and aggravation. It’s not really even about Mary.

Martha is worried and upset about many things. Something else was going on and Jesus approaches the explosion with an awareness of Martha’s inner trouble. We do not need to speculate on what’s eating Martha Mad Mood. We do need to see that Jesus is here and he understands her tension.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

WHAT'S EATING MARTHA MAD MOOD?



Luke 10:
 38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
   41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I understand you Martha. You had many things to do and became anxious about your workload. Been there and still do that…

Martha lived in the village of Bethany with her sister Mary and brother Lazarus. Since it was her home, it is likely that she was the eldest child and had been widowed.

I understand that sense of responsibility and seriousness in being the oldest child. I married an oldest child and we both think we are right and know the best way most of the time.

Jesus was Martha’s family friend and she opened her home to he and the travelling disciples. She had a choice in the matter and chose hospitality over inconvenience. It was the kind thing to do, but now she felt pressured to make things perfect. She had standards of excellence for her hospitality.

I do not know if she was a multi-task or uni-task person; just that she was reaching her limit. There was too much happening for her to maintain her composure.

Suddenly, Martha’s mood takes over the room. Martha snaps, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

When we feel overwhelmed we might react in similar fashion.

First, she is looking for support. Who in the room will back her up? Martha looked to Jesus, perhaps hoping he would give Mary that holy look and say, “Lovest thou me? Serve thy sister with gladness of heart. She is thy elder and thou owe her with thine exceeding kind servitude.”

When we believe there is injustice or inequity, we will look around to see who can influence others to see what we see. Martha felt alone in her frustration and speaks the one person who might support her war.

Secondly, she embarrasses her younger sister in the presence of highly respected friends. Anger will cause us to knock others down in front of other people.

What Martha did was turn the camaraderie and hospitality into her venue for anxiety. This can only be described as awkward.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

MY FRUSTRATION WITH MULTI-TASKING



I have a favorite illustration in Dr. Seuss’ book ‘The Cat In The Hat’. The cat is balanced on one foot atop a ball. In his hands and with his tail he holds many things. The cat held books, a fish bowl, an umbrella, a rake, a toy boat, a teacup, and a glass of milk, a fan and a cake. The proud cat bears an expression that seems to say, “Look at me, look at me! Am I not amazing?”



It is very impressive until the cat falls down surrounded by all the failed activities. The cat reminds me of myself if I try to balance too many priorities. I’m not very good at multi-tasking.

Multi-taskers are people who have the ability to manage several activities simultaneously. With relative ease they can carry on a conversation, balance a budget sheet, listen to music and bake a cake—all at the same time!

I admire multi-taskers for their powers of motor dexterity and to get the job done. However, I am not one of them.

I sing the praises of uni-tasking. I am able to concentrate on a singular task for extended periods of time. Sometimes I can balance one or two more activities, but one task always dominates and takes my attention.

On my way to a retreat Friday I took the wrong exit off of Highway 403. My uni-task was to drive the car. My secondary task was to visit with my friend Kevin Saunders. Unfortunately I can only manage small talk when driving.

We were talking about Bruce Springsteen’s album ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’. I was talking about the legal entanglements with his manager after ‘Born In The USA’. There was a significant time gap until the next album and that conflict shaped Bruce’s career at the time. And then, I was driving down a new road I had never been on. Without realizing, I had taken a ramp thinking I was getting close to my destination.

I am a confirmed uni-tasker. Do not get me talking while I drive. I may break concentration and then we will be lost.

This seriously affects my work style here at the church and at home. I have to usually move away from my desk if I’m meeting with someone at the office. Household handyman jobs are fine as long as I’m alone.

More than once I have become agitated by multiple demands during a task.

If I feel backlogged with tasks, I can start to pity myself. I have to remind myself that the task list may be secondary to the presenting needs of others.

What am I to do with myself when I feel overwhelmed by my tasks? I’m choosing to give myself to good tasks and yet, aggravated by impatience.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

SOLID FOOTINGS & DECONSTRUCTIONISM


In the illustration of building upon rock or sand, Jesus uses familiar symbols to illustrate the value of obedience to God. The Old Testament has many poetic references to God being a rock for his people. Isaiah spoke to a similar crowd using a similar picture.


Isaiah 28:
 14 So hear the word of the Lord, you foolish talkers who rule the people in Jerusalem.
 15 You say, “We made a treaty with death and an agreement with the grave. When the overwhelming disaster passes by, it won’t matter to us, because we have taken refuge in our lies, and falsehood is our hiding place.”
 16 This is what the Almighty Lord says:
 I am going to lay a rock in Zion, a rock that has been tested, a precious cornerstone, a solid foundation. Whoever believes in him will not worry.
 17 I will make justice a measuring line and righteousness a plumb line. Hail will sweep away your refuge of lies, and floodwaters will wash away your hiding place.
 18 Your treaty with death will be wiped away. Your agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming disaster passes by, you will be trampled by it.
 


The religious leaders believed they were safe. Thinking they were invincible, they built a house of lies. They protected themselves with false beliefs.

What is sand? It is deconstructed rock. It is fragmentary evidence that something greater existed. Sand represents a past that cannot be reversed. The great rock has been disassembled. Isn’t that what we do with truth in this world? We deconstruct it from its original stature and properties. We settle and build on fragments of God rather than the bedrock that we have to dig for.

God prophesied a rock in Zion. Jesus was the Messiah who would instruct the citizens how to live and build a new house. His followers would have nothing to worry about in the face of disaster and judgment. Their house would be designed and built with justice and mercy as the code.

In the house of obedience, there is no worry about the storm. Judgment is not to be feared.

Are natural disasters the judgment of God on people? It’s an easy sermon when flood, fire or wind destroys the house of people you hold in low regard. Is the Almighty somehow acting out when a tornado strikes? Are Tsunamis and landslides ‘acts of God’ as your insurance company would have you believe?

If we are to look with judgment at these events, then let us look at our own fragility and foolishness. We build houses in the path of danger all the time. The earth itself is described as groaning and reeling—waiting for new birth. The universe is waiting for the King to bring balance and the citizens to participate in the earth’s care.

Right now, we are to focus on building for the Kingdom and waiting. There are many floods and disasters to come. God’s judgments will test the integrity of everything.

Those who live in obedience to Jesus dig deep and build strong. What can we say about Jesus as a foundation for our lives?

·      You have to dig below the surface to find secure footings. Most of what people tell us about life building is cosmetic and on the surface. The work of God’s Spirit will remove the top layers where others start building. Our lives start building in a different place.

·      Everything can be built for maximum integrity and strength when started right. A building is a work of harmonious structure. Each part is inter-dependent. Foundations support walls, floors and roof. Always start your build at the bottom.

·      The house will not wash away when floods come. The ways of God are trustworthy.


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