Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 24, 2013 - Walking In the Way of Jesus: Service Over Power

Matthew 20:20-28

Perhaps you saw the recent news story about a pastor who wrote this note on a receipt at an Applebees restaurant in St. Louis.  The receipt generated an automatic gratuity but the pastor scratched it out and wrote I give God 10%.  Why do you get 18%.  Another waitress posted the picture on the internet and when the pastor became aware of it called Applebees to complain and the waitress was fired.

I think everyone would benefit from working a service-oriented job at some point in life.  If you do, or have, you know the many joys of working with the public.  And you know how difficult it is to be in a position of serving others.

In 1980 I was working in a business in Dothan, Alabama.  I can’t say I liked the job, but it was a good experience for me.  I was a floorman for a packing line. 

There were around eight to ten people on the line, packing items in boxes, and my job was to make sure they had all the parts to pack.  They worked on incentive – they were paid for the number of boxes they packed –so they became very unhappy if they ran out of parts and had to stop.  I would start at 5:00 in the morning and it was hustling all day to keep up.  Some of them were on my back all day long, but I learned more about people, and dealing with people, on that job than I did in seminary.  In seminary you don’t generally learn such useful things, such as dealing with people.  When I began the job I complained about it quite a bit, but when I left I thanked God for the opportunity and what I had learned.

This morning, as we continue our series Walking In the Way of Jesus we come to a passage that provides a rather unflattering portrait of two of the disciples of Jesus.  Listen to what Matthew 20:20-28 tells us –

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21 “What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Talk about an outrageous request, especially at this point in the life of Jesus.  This was just a short time before his death, when he was trying to make sure his disciples had a grasp on the truths he had been trying to instill in them for the previous three years.  And now, when it his life was just days from ending, Jesus finds that two of his closest disciples – James and John – not only had missed some of the most important lessons, but were demonstrating an attitude that was in complete opposition to the spirit of Jesus.  This is a bit like being a teacher and pouring out your heart on an important topic and a student raises their hand and asks do we have to know this for the test or can we just ignore it?

The request, made on their behalf by their mother, was so extremely ill timed.  They came to Jesus looking for power.  To sit on the right and left hand of someone meant to be granted the most prominent positions, and they still assumed that the mission of Jesus was about political power rather than spiritual power.

So Jesus calls his disciples together – all twelve of them – and says you want to be great?  You want to be powerful?  Then serve others, because that’s the way it works in my kingdom.  My kingdom is not like those of the world, where people seek out power to lord over others.  My kingdom is about serving others.

That’s not very appealing, is it?  I mean really, do you want to serve others?  We want to be served, don’t we?

Jesus is calling us to do what does not come natural to us, turning accepted beliefs around.  He said things such as the first shall be last, if you want to save your live you must lose your life, and in today’s passage whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

I think that far too often, the followers of Jesus are still missing this point about the kingdom of God – the kingdom of God is about service, not power.  Far too many times, the church in our society has been seduced by the trappings of political power and falling for the belief that political power is the way to the hearts of people.  If that were true, Congress would have a much higher approval rating.  Do you know what their approval rating is?  10%.  That actually surprises me, because I don’t think I know anyone who approves of Congress these days.  It’s not my intent to pick on Congress, but to say that if political power was the way to win the hearts of people it’s a lesson not yet learned by Congress.

And that’s a lesson the church must always keep in mind – it is not our task to exercise power over people, it is not our task to try and control the lives of others, it is not our task to try and manage what others do; our task is to love and serve others and to invite them to become followers of Jesus that they might love and serve others as well.

By most of our contemporary standards – and by the standards of his day – Jesus would have been judged to be a failure.  Only a handful of his followers stayed with him to the end. He was publicly executed in the most horrific fashion known to man.  His few earthly possessions were divided among those who carried out his crucifixion.  His closest friends had abandoned him, and one had betrayed him.  He had to be buried in a borrowed tomb.

But the ministry of Jesus was a success ultimately because of his love and service and because of the vindication of God.  That is our model, not the model of power and success that is so often held up for us.

When I moved to Louisville years ago to finish seminary, I had a hard time finding work to support myself.  I managed to get a job working for a cleaning service, and I was on the cleaning crew at an office building around 3rd and St. Catherine streets.  I was the new person on the crew so guess what job was given to me – cleaning the bathrooms. 

You haven’t really lived until you have cleaned public bathrooms.  I really mean that, you haven’t lived until you’ve cleaned a public bathroom.  If you want your thinking reoriented that’s a job that will work wonders for you.  Our crew was six people, and the head of our crew was a young lady who was probably about twenty-five.  She was a single mom struggling to raise several children on her own, and worked several jobs.  At the end of my first week, as we were sitting in the break room, getting ready to clock out, and she asked me so when are you going to quit?  You made it through a whole week.  Before I could answer she continued – we’ve had a lot of students from that seminary work here.  They don’t last long.  They always quit.  And you know why they quit?  They think they’re too good for this job.  Do you want to know how that makes me feel?

To be honest, I didn’t have a choice.  It was the job I was able to find, but I had been hoping to find another job but after hearing those words I wasn’t too sure.

I think that, far too often, the face of the church that many people have seen is one of power and pride.  Far too often people see churches as wanting to tell them what to believe, how to live, what to do, and what to say.  They have seen too many examples of churches filled with pride and a lust for power and control and too few examples of love and service.

Love and service are the ultimate power.

Monday, February 18, 2013

February 17, 2013 Walking in the Way of Jesus - Life Over Death

Matthew 21:18-22

One of the reasons I teach a class in Louisville is for the opportunity to study a particular subject in great detail.  It’s also to encourage students to take seriously some of what I wish I had taken seriously as a students, such as the importance of writing.

One of the assignments I give my class is to write a paper each term.  They don’t always like it.  This term I have been encouraging them to give me a paragraph each week.  I don’t require it; I simply suggest it.  To add an extra level of encouragement I tell them if they complete it a week early I’ll give them half a grade point as extra credit.  The reason why I do this is to make their lives easier.  I tell them if they will give me one paragraph a week their paper will be completely finished by the due date and they will have so much less stress during finals week.

You would think this would encourage them to write that paragraph each week, but guess what?  Most of them don’t do it.  They will wait until the last week of the term, a day or two before the paper is due, before they begin work and will become very frustrated because it’s hard to write that paper when you are studying for exams and writing other papers.

And do you know why they put off writing the paper?  It’s not because they are lazy – it’s because they don’t know what to say.  I tell them writing their paper requires the same thing required of me when I write a sermon – until you can sum up what you want to say in one sentence, you don’t know what you’re trying to say.

From now through Easter we will walk through a new series of messages titled Walking In the Way of Jesus.  Here, in one sentence, is what I will say through the entire series – we are called to walk in the way of Jesus.  Pretty simple, isn’t it?  It’s so simple you may be saying to yourself, okay, got it.  Now we can dispense with the sermon for the next seven weeks.  Except that I’d like to explain that sentence in a bit more detail.

The messages all come from the Gospel of Matthew, from the last week of the life of Jesus.  I gave you the titles last week and here they are again – today is Life Over Death, followed by Service Over Power, Mercy Over Judgment, Love Over Law, and Deeds Over Words.  These are the themes that really come to the forefront in the final days of the life of Jesus.  In that final week Jesus is driving home those themes to his followers, and trying to get those themes through the closed, hard hearts of his opponents.  He is down to the final week of his life, and he knows it.  Knowing you have only a few days, what are you going to do?  You are going to drive home your core ideals, as often as you can.  So the themes we see in these final days of Jesus reflect the heart of who he is, they reflect the absolute essence of his mission, they are the most important lessons he has to teach.

So let’s read the Scripture passage for this morning.
18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.
19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.

There’s a lot in that passage we could talk about, but the part I want to focus on is Jesus and this fig tree.  That’s an odd story, isn’t it?  Why would Jesus speak so harshly to a fig tree?  It seems unfair, doesn’t it? 

What’s important about this story is that everything Jesus does means something.  The gospels don’t record things just by happenstance – there is meaning not only to every world of Jesus, but also to his every action.  Every act of Jesus is meant to teach us something, and I believe the significance of this story is that Jesus is telling us to choose life over death.  The fig tree looked like a fig tree.  It had leaves and branches like you would find on a fig tree.  It had a trunk like a fig tree.  It has roots like a fig tree.  In fact, it had everything you would expect to find on a fig tree except for one thing – figs.  It was completely lacking in the fruit it was created to bear.  In terms of its purpose, it was dead.  It might have the appearance of life, but without bearing fruit, it had no real life.

The words of Jesus weren’t directed at the fig tree, but were, in fact, leveled at much of the religion of his day, which was not producing the fruit it was intended to produce.  Much of the religion in the day of Jesus, especially that which was presented by the religious establishment, was devoid of any life.  It had become cold, stale, legalistic, and lacking mercy and love.  It was not, simply put, producing any fruit.  It was dead.

One of the most important actions of Jesus, in demonstrating a healthy faith, was in taking faith out of religious settings such as the synagogue and the Temple and into the daily lives of people.  Jesus was certainly a strong supporter of both the synagogue and the Temple and he regularly participated in worship, but he demonstrated that a vital and living faith was one that could not, and should not, be confined to a building.

I think that, unfortunately, there are a lot of scared churches these days.  They’re scared because they are worried about their survival.  And one of the reasons why they are fighting for their very survival is because they have adopted a bunker mentality, where they are afraid of the world out there, so the church building becomes a safe place – a bunker – where they can hide out from the world rather than engage it.  And the irony is that by confining themselves to their buildings they will only hasten their decline.

I am grateful to have a place to worship.  I am grateful we have a building to center us as a people.  But we must also be aware that our faith cannot – and certainly should not – be confined to a building.  A church building is not the end goal, but the beginning.  It is a place where we gather to worship and from which we are sent to do the work of the church.  Some of the work of the church takes place in a building, but much of the work of the church takes place after we exit the building.  As we encounter our friends, neighbors, and coworkers we are called to live the kind of life demonstrated by Jesus – a life of love, grace, and generosity.

We are called to be the church and I believe in the church with all my heart.  I believe one of the reasons why God calls us to be a part of the church is because we can do so much more together than we can individually.  This is worship, when we gather together in this place, and as important as that is, the real measure of being the church is what happens when we are out there, outside of this building.  That’s where most of the ministry of Jesus took place – outside of a religious building.  What we do here is very important, please don’t hear me as saying anything otherwise, but we really become the church when we are living like Jesus out there.

As we go through these messages I want us to think about what it means to walk in the way of Jesus, and by the time we arrive at Easter I hope that we all look at our lives in a deeper way and ask what we can do to walk more in the ways of Jesus.  In what ways are we choosing life over death?  Are we choosing a living, vital faith?

In another church where I served a family took in an infant that was very, very fragile.  At the time, their three daughters were teenagers and life was very busy.  In the midst of their busyness came this little boy, who was born to a mother addicted to drugs, so he was addicted as well.  It was a terrible withdrawal he was forced to endure.  The drugs caused a number of very difficult medical issues.  His respiratory system was severely damaged and he was in constant need of oxygen.  His internal systems were so damaged that he couldn’t eat.  Several times a day a large syringe-looking device as attached to a tube in his stomach and he received his nourishment through the tube.  The doctors said he would almost certainly never survive his physical challenges.  This family took him in, cared for him, and loved him.  It was an incredible commitment of time and energy.

His mom worked a bit in the church office, and one day had him in a carrier beside her desk.  He was only a few months old at the time and it was very obvious just to look at him that he was very fragile medically.  That particular day someone from Frankfort came by to inspect a piece of equipment.  When he was in the office he watching this young boy, but didn’t say anything.  A year later he was back at the church for the annual inspection and stopped by my office to talk.  It seemed obvious that he really wanted to talk about more than just the weather, and finally asked do you mind if I ask you a question?  I said sure.  He said when I was here last year there was a little boy in the office.  I looked at him and it seemed obvious to me that he was not going to make it.  The emotion was obvious in his voice as he said I’ve thought about that little boy a lot in the last year.  Did he die?

I was very happy to tell him that no, not only did he not die, he was doing very well.  He was, against all odds, thriving.  He was thriving, in part certainly, because of good medical care.  But I was convinced then, and I remain convinced, that the real reason he was thriving was because of the love he received every day.  Because this family took him in, cared for him, and loved him, he beat death.  Life triumphed over death because of the triumph o flove.

That family chose life over death for that fragile, little boy.  We are called by Jesus to choose life over death.  A living, real, vital faith that permeates every fiber of our being and guides us in every moment of life over stale, dead, counterfeit faith.

Monday, February 11, 2013

February 10, 2013 The Harder I Go, the Behinder I Get: Catching Up On Our Finances

Mark 8:34-37
Luke 12:13-15

Next week we begin a series of messages that will take us through Easter.  The messages all come from the Gospel of Matthew and are based on stories from the final week of the life of Jesus.  The title of the series is Walking In the Way of Jesus, and in that series we’ll look at six topics across seven messages.  The first and last messages have the same title, but different content – the first and last messages are Life Over Death, and the other messages are Service Over Power, Mercy Over Judgment, Love Over Law, and Deeds Over Words.

This morning we come to the end of our series The Harder I Go, the Behinder I Get.  Our final message is Catching Up On Our Finances.  I am relieved to say that I have enough money to last me the rest of my life.  Of course, if I live past Wednesday I don’t know what I’ll do.

My disclaimer this week is that you probably don’t want to take financial advice from me, as I’ve made about every financial mistake a person can possibly make.  To borrow a phrase from Dave Ramsey, I’ve paid a lot of stupid tax.

It’s hard to talk about money, isn’t it?  Sometimes we are so stressed out about our finances that the last thing we want is to come to church and hear someone asking us to think about money.  In fact, the stress we experience from finances pressures, especially in recent years, is probably our greatest source of stress, and it’s one area of life where we feel as though we have very little control.  We can work on our health.  We can eat healthier and work out.  We can work on our relationships.  We can sit down and talk to others and work out the problems in our relationships.  We can work on our time.  We can cut something out of our schedules.  But money is tougher, isn’t it?  When it comes to money we feel at the mercy of other forces.  We can’t control the economy.  We can’t control the cost of a gallon of gas.  We can’t control the cost of groceries.  And sometimes we can’t control whether or not we have a job.  So, all things considered, it’s often easier to simply ignore any talk about finances.

But there are few things that impact our daily lives as much as money, and, the Scriptures have a lot to say about money.

First, we are reminded that we are people who live in different worlds.  We live as the people of God called to a particular way of living, with a particular way of relating to God, to others, and to our finances.  But we also live in an economy that seeks to tell us how we should spend our money and even to view our own value in relation to how much money we have. 

The world of faith and the worlds of finance are often in great conflict with one another.  We live in an economy that works best when we continually consume, when we continually accumulate, and when we lay up treasure for ourselves and for our future.  But we also live within the kingdom of God, which reminds us to not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth (Matthew 6:20) and take no thought for your life (Matthew 6:25).

How do you reconcile those two perspectives?
We do so, I believe, in the following ways.

1.  Remember That Everything Belongs to God.
As the Scriptures talk about money and economics they present the economy of God as different from any kind of economic system we know.  The Scriptures don’t present a particular economic philosophy such as capitalism, socialism, or any ism.  Scripture tells us the economic system of God is that of stewardship, and stewardship begins with this affirmation – everything belongs to God.  Everything.  Psalm 24:1 reminds us the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.

What was the responsibility given to Adam in the Garden?  To cultivate it and keep it, according to Genesis 2:15.  It was not given as a possession, but as something for which to care.  Creation, proclaimed as being very good, is placed in the care of humanity to tend, not to do with as we please, but to care for that which belongs to God.  Jesus tells several parables dealing with the concept of stewardship, and each one focuses on the idea of caring for that which belongs to God – Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27 tell the parable of the talents; Luke 12:42-48 tells the parable of the faithful steward; and Luke 16:1-13 tells the parable of the unrighteous steward.

So we are called, in God’s economy, to remember that what we have really belongs to God, which will cause us to think far differently about what we have in our possession.

2. Financial stresses are, I would say, the number one relationship killer.
Of all the stresses that face couples it is finances, in my experience, that is the number one source of stress and conflict.  And it’s one of the areas of life that couples often don’t talk about.  When couples ask me to officiate at their wedding I sometimes talk to them about important matters they need to consider.  I say sometimes because here is the reality – they don’t really want to hear what I have to say about anything, because they’ve already got it all figured out.  I knew everything before I got married.  Didn’t you?  It was not until after I got married that I discovered how little I really knew.

In May, Tanya and I will celebrate our 29th anniversary.  I’m very proud of that accomplishment.  Please don’t ask Tanya if she is.  After 29 years you learn a few things.  And what I have learned is that people need to talk about their financial lives, and a lot of people don’t.

As I said at the beginning of this message, it’s hard to talk about money.  But we better talk about it in our relationships, or those relationships are going to face some real challenges.

But it’s not just couples – it’s friends and family members as well.  If you want to find out just how much money can affect relationships, ask someone for money.  Can I borrow $500 from the choir this morning?  Don’t think about it, just answer!

Here’s what I believe, and you can take this advice for whatever you think it’s worth – don’t lend money.  Don’t lend money – give money.  Just make it a gift.  When you lend money it really complicates a relationship because it so often erects a wall in the relationship.  Now, I know not everyone will agree with me about this, so I’ll add this piece of advice – if you don’t make it a gift, make your agreement very clear.  Specify the terms very clearly and make the expectations very clear.  And when you do you’ll find it still makes the relationship awkward.  Is a relationship worth the cost?  If it’s a relationship that really matters, just make it a gift.  And if someone makes such a gift to you, do the same for someone else sometime.

3. You are of far greater value than the sum total of your personal bottom line.
Do not take your sense of worth from money.  Advertisers certainly have learned how to pick the money out of our pockets by playing to our sense of worth.  In fact, you will never see or hear a commercial on television or radio.  They are never called commercials.  What are they called?  We’ll be back right after these – messages.  Advertisers are not selling us a product as much as they are selling us a message.  If we purchase their product we will become more popular, better looking, healthier, or any number of other promises they make.

When Jesus talked about money, which he did quite often, one of the reminders he offered was that our self-worth is not based on the size of our bank accounts. Life does not, he reminds us, consist in an abundance of possessions.  Living in a society that so highly prizes an accumulation of money and possessions, it is easy to be driven to try to gain more and more.  The drive to accumulate is often tied very closely to our sense of self-worth.  The more we have, the more important or valuable we must be, at least in the eyes of society.

But the drive to gain more and more is never-ending.  Though a purchase may provide a sense of satisfaction and well-being, it is only temporary.  Soon we need to buy something else to recapture that feeling, and we begin a cycle of buying in an effort to feel better about ourselves.  The reality is, you can’t buy enough stuff to make you feel better.  I’ve tried it.  It doesn’t work.

4.  Be Generous.
In 2010 a 14-year-old by the name of Hannah Salwen convinced her family to do something rather amazing.  She was riding in the family car with her father when they came to an intersection.  She noticed, on one side, an expensive luxury car and on the other a man begging for food.  She told her father if the man had a less expensive car perhaps the man could have something to eat.  Her father talked to her about the fact that there are some inequities in the world.  She couldn’t accept that.  She continued to talk with her parents about the inequities in the world, prompting her mother to finally ask, what do you want us to do?  Sell our house?  They actually did.  They lived in quite a beautiful home in Atlanta – a 6,500 square foot home that even included an elevator to Hannah’s room. 

They sold the home for quite a profit, gave half of the money to charity, and purchased a smaller home with the remaining money.

Not everyone could do such a thing.  In fact, not very many people could do such a thing.  And doing such a thing will not take care of all the inequities in the world.  And I’m not saying you should go out and sell your house. 

But I am saying we need to think about how we can be generous.  One of the things I don’t like when people preach on money is the guilt that is often dumped on us.  Let me put you at ease this morning – I’m not going to tell you how to be generous; that’s up to you.  All I’ll tell you is this – be generous.  If it’s just giving a dollar, give a dollar.

What’s important about generosity is that it draws us out of our tendency to focus upon our own lives to the exclusion of others.  Even if it’s a dollar, we are thinking about another life rather than just our own.
Be generous.  Reflect the generosity of God in your own life.

Monday, February 04, 2013

February 3, 2013 - The Harder I Go, The Behinder I Get: Catching Up On Our Time

James 4:13-15
Mark 6:30-32
Ephesians 5:15-16a

For the past two weeks I have added a disclaimer to my messages.  This week, I will add a disclaimer and a correction.  I realize the title of this message – Catching Up On Our Time – is incorrect.  It is impossible to catch up on time.  Once time has passed, it is gone.  That’s the correction.  The disclaimer is this – I am not preaching to you this morning.  I’m preaching to myself, but feel free to listen in on the conversation if you’d like.

This morning, I brought my 2012 calendar with me.  Look at the size of this thing.  It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?  Here’s this year’s calendar, which is much, much smaller.  I bought a really large calendar last year because I thought it would help me manage my time better and be more efficient.  I’m not sure it helped.

I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly searching for ways to help me maximize my time or ways to save my time.  And I’m one of those people who is always wishing for more hours in a day.

Today is the third in our series of four messages on the topic The Harder I Go, the Behinder I Get. 

We all feel the pressure of time.  There are too few hours in the day for what we want to do and need to do.

This morning I will read our Scripture passages as we go through the message.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”                 James 4:13-15

1.  So let’s start with that common complaint – there aren’t enough hours in the day! 
Well, guess what?  Thank goodness there aren’t more hours in the day!  You aren’t getting any more hours.  You get 24 hours a day, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get another 24 tomorrow.  Sorry for that harsh reality, but that’s exactly what it is – reality.  Besides, do we really want more time in the day?  Do we really want a few more hours each day, hours that will only make us more exhausted and demand more of us?

The book of James reminds us that we have an allotted amount of time each day, and we should be grateful for the time we are given.

What we should be doing, instead of wishing for more time, is learning to avoid time traps.  In this day and age of social media, and 24/7 accessibility, it is tempting for us to believe everything must be dealt with in the moment it comes to us.  Because our phones are always with us, we believe we must answer whenever it rings.  I was preaching a funeral several years ago and a phone rang in the middle of my message – and the person took the call!  He was talking on his phone in the middle of a funeral!  What call is that important?  I kept on speaking and after a minute or so I heard him say well, I’ve got to go.  I’m at a funeral.  I wanted to say don’t answer that phone unless it’s the departed calling to tell you they are in a much better place and they are fine!

Because we spend a good deal of time in front of a computer screen we feel we must be constantly checking our email or facebook updates.  But is this really necessary?  Is it really necessary for me to take that call at this moment?  Do I need to answer that text immediately?  Do I need to check my email every five minutes?

In this electronic driven 24/7 world we often devalue what matters while elevating what doesn’t matter, and in doing so cast aside precious time.

Life is precious; it so very, very precious.  Life is exceedingly precious.  Immensely precious.

Life is also uncertain.  We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.  Savor every moment you are given, as each moment is a great gift.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  Mark 6:30-32

2.  Take care of yourself. 
Many of us are driven by guilt.  Guilt makes it hard to take care of ourselves.  We find it hard to say no.  And then we drive ourselves into exhaustion, or worse.

A number of years ago I went to my doctor.  I was pretty stressed out and it was affecting my health.  He ran some tests and told me if you promise to go home and do absolutely nothing, I won’t call an ambulance to take you to the hospital right now.  He scheduled an appointment the next day for me to see a cardiologist, and I wondered if he was trying to scare me.  It worked.  Both of the doctors told me I needed to learn how to manage stress.  That was their solution.  It was also the same advice I could have received from my mom – for free.

Many of us struggle to properly care for ourselves.  We don’t rest enough.  We don’t eat properly.  We don’t exercise.  Instead, we run from one commitment to another, while our stress levels rise to a breaking point and our nerves begin to unravel.

I find great comfort in the passage from Mark’s gospel, when he tells us that Jesus led his disciples away from the crowds so that they might rest.  They were so busy, Mark says, they did not even have a chance to eat.  Now that’s busy!  If Jesus recognized the need to step away for a time and receive some much-needed rest, I think it’s safe to say we should do the same. Jesus knew his disciples could not continue without some rest; they had to have a break. 

We have to take care of ourselves, and we have to take care of one another.  We do so many things, and there are so many more things we know we could do or that we need to do.  But we can’t burn ourselves – or others – out.  I remember some years ago hearing a guy say he dreaded coming to church, because it was like going to work, he had so many responsibilities.  That’s terrible.  If you feel that way, drop some stuff.  You have to take care of yourself, physically and spiritually.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity. Ephesians 5:15-16a

3.  Redeem the time you have been given. 
When I was in seminary, my roommate and I were at church one evening and had a few minutes to speak to the minister.  It was a fairly large church, so there weren’t a lot of opportunities to speak to the minister for more than a few moments.  After he walked away my roommate said something very interesting – I always get the feeling when I’m around him that he has a clock ticking very loudly in is head, and he lets that clock run his life.

I often feel that clock ticking in my head.  Far too often, wherever I am, my mind is somewhere else.
The passage from Ephesians, in the King James Version, uses the phrase redeeming the time, in place of the NIV’s making the most of every opportunity.  I like the idea expressed by the word redeem.  Redeem means to buy back.  It means we reclaim our time, time that is often stolen away from us by the responsibilities that seek take control of our lives.

Redeeming our time means we are no longer bounced around by the countless demands that lay claim to our time.

When I was much younger – probably 2nd or 3rd grade – I thought time would never move on.  The school year seemed to be dragging on forever and I didn’t think summer would ever arrive.  I asked my mom one afternoon when I got home if time would always move so slowly.  She said time will go faster and faster, and one day you’ll wish it would slow down.

I feel my life speeding by so quickly, and I do wish it would slow down.  I find myself still waiting to do some of the things I said I would do ten, twenty, thirty or more years ago.  Some days I fear I will look back on my time on this earth and wonder what was I thinking? 

We cannot catch up on our time, but we can learn to see it as the great gift that it is.