Closet Space and Room in the Garage

The other day I was meeting with a fellow pastor and church planter.  At the end of our time together he asked me to pray for him – that he find time for quiet reflection and meditation; that he find time to be still before the Lord.

Sounds like a pretty reasonable request.  Sounds like something I might ask someone to pray for.  Sounds like something that will… never happen.

Finding time to sit still and do–let’s face it–nothing is impossible.  How would you go about finding this time?  Where would you look?  It’s harder than that even, because this ‘nothing’ is an intentional ‘nothing.’  Quietness before the Lord.  Stillness in the[did my email just chime.  I’ll just check that, it could be important. Oh, someone commented on my last FB post.  How many is that?  wow people really liked that post[[Oh someone posted an article.  I should read that.  It is from the Gospel Coalition, after all[[[did my phone vibrate? I should return that text.  It’s about tomorrow’s meeting[[[[That reminds me, I should call that other person too and make sure he’s doing okay.  He sounded discouraged yesterday[[[[[Isn’t my sermon on discouragement?  Where is that book I was looking for?]]]]] where was I?  Oh, the phone call.]]]] where was I?  Oh yeah, the text.  about the meeting.]]] now, where was I?  Oh right, the article from the Gospel Coalition.  How did NFL.com get pulled up?]] Now where was I?  Oh right, Facebook.  Gosh my cleverness amazes even me sometimes] midst of a very distracting culture.  

Imagine coming home one day and you walk past a door you’ve never noticed before right next to the kitchen.  You open it and there before you is an empty closet.  “Honey, what’s this?”  “Looks like a closet dear.” “Yes, I realize it’s a closet.  Has it always been here?” “Um.” “I think just found another closet!”

There are exactly three times you find empty closets in your house.  The day you move in, the day you move out, and the day you clean out your stupid closet and MAKE some room in it.

You will NEVER find time to sit quietly, waiting on God, meditating on His kindnesses, praying, reading, listening.  You must MAKE the time.

This sounds like work.  Yes.  It sounds like you are saying the Christian life takes effort.  Yes.  The Christian Life takes effort.  If someone told you it doesn’t, demand your money back.

The irony in this case is how much effort it takes to take a moment and stop putting in the effort.

But it’s easier to say I want to find the time.  When I say I want to find the time, I can now sit back and wait for God to make some quiet time available.  If He wants me to spend time in quiet meditation, He will have to do something about my days and schedule.  Nothing has changed.  Obviously it’s just not as important to God as it is to me.

When I moved my family to Northern VA it was the first home we owned with a garage and a basement.  We were very excited.  The first morning we woke up, my wife asked me what my plans were.  “I’m going to get both cars into the garage by the end of the day” (my wife and I grew up in Cleveland where, if you had a garage, you used your garage for–this sounds crazy– your cars).  So I spent the entire day rearranging my garage – moving things out that didn’t need to be there, rearranging other things that needed to be in the garage but didn’t need to take up as much space as they were.

You have 168 hours this week.  God gave them to you.  It’s the same number of hours you had last week.  It’s the same number of hours you had the week before.  It’s the same number of hours you will have next week and the week after.  Maybe there are some things in your week that could be rearranged or removed entirely.  Maybe it’s time to throw out some of that moth-eaten stuff and MAKE room in your closet for the stuff of eternal quality.

“Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10

To find time, you need to begin to make time.  And this like all worthy endeavors will take effort and sacrifice and change and you will do great sometimes and you fail sometimes and you will love it and be amazed by the time with God sometimes and you will hate it and feel like a hypocrite, and a lazy one at that, sometimes.

I suggest starting with a pretty specifically small time limit.  start with ten minutes.  Ten small minutes when you close your computer and turn off your phone or put it in another room and you close the door and you open your Bible.  It might help you to take out a piece of paper and write on it.  It might also help you to throw the paper away when you are done so that you aren’t writing your next blog or sermon or… oh, maybe I’m the only one that does that.  Anyway, you get the picture.  Start at ten minutes.  Meditate on God’s goodness.  Write down five people in your life you are thankful for and pray for them.  Read a portion of Scripture that has nothing to do with a lesson or sermon or book you are preparing.  Ask the Lord to create in you a clean heart and to renew His steadfast Spirit in you.  Ask Him to restore to your heart the joy of His salvation. (Psalm 51.10,12)

In a week make it fifteen minutes.  A week after that make it twenty.  By the time January rolls around you’ll be up to thirty and by the end of January over forty-five minutes of quietness before the Lord.

I do not claim this is going to be easy.  It will require sacrifices.  It will require rearranging some things and getting rid of some things.  Easy is leaving the cars outside and having a ginormous, there’s-no-where-else-to-put-it-let’s-throw-it-out-there space.

It won’t be easy.  It will be worth it.  Stop looking for the time as if it’s a misplaced set of car keys.  Start making the time.

Enjoy the journey.

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Hope for Hump Day, December 4

The Hap-Happiest Season of All

Today is the fourth day of December which this year is also the fourth day of Advent. Advent is a season of anticipation just before Christmas Day. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends **spoiler alert** on Christmas. This means that the length of Advent fluctuates. Sometimes it begins in November (even as early as November 27), and sometimes–like this year–it begins in December (even as late as December 3). Unlike Lent (the season before Easter), which is always 40 days (plus six Sundays) long, Advent can be as long as 29 days and as short as 22 days.

There is no biblical mandate for celebrating Advent. It is a tradition that has been developed and introduced by Christians seeking to help one another adore Jesus as Lord (which, by the way, IS mandated by Scripture). Should you celebrate Advent? Well, if you mean should, as in ought, as in is it a rule, then no. But if you mean is it a good thing to do, then yes. In fact, if you are a Christian and you celebrate Christmas in anything close to the American traditional way with gifts and other things I would go so far as to say you really need to celebrate Advent to help you and yours keep perspective on the “holy day” you are celebrating on December 25.

“Advent”ages for celebrating

Advent means “Coming.” The season of Advent, then, is the anticipation, the looking forward to the day we celebrate God’s coming to earth in meekness and humility as a baby, “born to set his people free.” There are many traditional, and non-traditional ways to celebrate Advent: Scripture readings that focus on various aspects of the story of the birth of the Christ child, or on the many prophecies that anticipated the advent of the Savior; singing traditional Christmas carols and talking about both the meaning of the songs and the stories behind how and when they were written; counting down the days with special calendars that hold special gifts and writings for each day as you anticipate Christmas morning. My brother has built a slightly less than traditional Advent Calendar for me and a few others this year.

Some things to keep in mind for Advent that may help you and your family if you decide to celebrate.

First, there was no Advent for the first Christmas. No one was anticipating the coming of the Savior with the possible exception of the magi, though they may have learned of his birth after the fact (Matthew 2 tells us they showed up after the birth, and may indicate that they learned that he was born after the fact also). But God’s people were not anticipating with eagerness the coming of their Savior. It had been too long. The prophets had been too quiet. Worship had become rote. Even the high priest doubted the time had come, even after an angel of God told him directly.

Have you stopped anticipating God’s advent? Has worship become rote. Does it feel as if God no longer shows up; God doesn’t break through anymore? Have you given up hope not only for Christ’s second coming but even for His coming to heal you today? Advent is for you. Anticipate the deliverance from a long season of darkness and silence. Look forward to the quiet breaking through that the Spirit of God still does for his children. Adore the Christ who came into this dark world to deliver you from your darkness and to be with you as you continue to walk in this dark world.

Second, Advent is for Adoring Jesus. It is too easy to let this season devolve into adoration of family or adoration of self or adoration of stuff. Anticipation of Christmas can too easily become anticipation of seeing the delight in our children’s eyes when they see the gifts under the tree, or anticipation of getting all the stuff on our lists, or anticipation of a first sit down family dinner in six months.

There is nothing wrong with family meals or giving gifts or even finding joy and delight in God’s provisions and creation. But these are not ultimate and it is important that we remember and help our children remember that.

This is is the season for anticipating the celebration of the coming that was not anticipated. This is the season for reminding us to anticipate and expect that Christ still comes to set us free. This is the season to remember to anticipate that Christ will come again.

Have a wonderful Advent season.
And do you know what day Christmas is this year? Do you? Anyone? Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike. That’s right.

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Enjoy the journey.

Hope for Hump Day, November 20

 

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Psalm 119.105

 

We seem to be obsessed with the future these days.  Companies have five and ten and twenty year plans.  We think our churches should also have five and ten year vision or mission statements.  Even for ourselves we want to know the future.  We want to know God’s will for our lives.

 

It’s good to have dreams to a certain extent, and it is definitely good to want my dreams to be in line with God’s dreams for me.  But wanting to know or see or understand the future is not always as noble as all that.

 

Sometimes I want to know the future because I want to know the outcome of a particular trial.  “If I just knew what God was doing I’d be okay with all of this.”  That’s not actually faith.  That’s “knowing the end of the book.”  In that case knowing is easier than trusting.

 

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Romans 8.24,25

 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11.1

 

It is safe to say that Joseph in Genesis and Job in—well—Job and even Mary in Luke did not know how their stories were going to play out.

 

But God’s word is a lamp to your feet—not a flood lamp for your horizon.

 

When you are driving through fog at night, the worst thing you can do is turn on your high beams.  Your high beam headlights are positioned to cast the light farther out in front of your vehicle, but in the fog they just bounce light off all the particulates floating in the air and make it harder for you to see.  You want your low beams or even fog lamps that are positioned lower on the car and light up the road immediately in front of you.

 

Sometimes we are too busy trying to prepare for the momentous that we forget to be faithful in the moment.  What does faith and faithfulness look like right now?  In this moment?  I don’t have to try to be faithful for the next six years or six months or six days.  I am called to faithfulness right now.  In the quiet morning hours or evening hours when no one else is awake.  In the conversation with my teenage daughter.  In this mundane moment of speaking with love to my toddler who is—surprise, surprise—acting like a toddler.  In this conversation with a woman at work.  In this interaction with my wife.  In this decision over another drink, another cookie, another episode, another post, another look, another book (yes, self control sometimes means not buying the next Keller book).

 

Trusting God means following him with this step and not even worrying about whether I will keep following him with the next twelve steps (see what I did there?).  “I’ll never do that again,” is not the repentance God seeks.  Never again is too far out there.  It’s too dark and foggy and twisted to see.  It’s so big and overwhelming that “I’ll never do that again,” practically guarantees I will be doing it again—and soon—because it’s not in me to see that far forward and focusing that far down the long and winding road only makes it harder to see curve right in front of me.

 

So I light the Lamp and look down at my feet and I take the next step.  And then the next step.  And sometimes the next step is forward in faithfulness.  And sometimes the next step is backward in repentance.  And even when it’s backward it’s not starting all over again, but somehow even the backward steps of repentance are moving me forward toward Christ.

 

I am not pushing the rock of my own righteousness up the hill toward the goal, stumbling and needing to start all over every time the rock rolls back down.  I am standing firmly on the rock of Christ’s righteousness, trusting him to complete the work he began in me.

 

So light the lamp.  Use the lamp.  Take the next step of faith and this next step of repentance.  And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor! (cue the music)

 

yes.  I know.  There are some theological holes in the song.  Santa is singing it, for crying out loud.  What did you expect?

Hope for Hump Day, November 13

I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. I was struck by this sentence:

If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sin at all.

The way I heard one pastor put it was, we need to view our own sin with the judgement of sobriety and others’ sin with the judgement of charity.

I usually reverse those. I have all sort of excuses and circumstantial extenuations for why I sin. It usually is closely related to other people’s sin. Do you ever do that? “Sure I’m not treating my spouse the way God directs me to, but he/she sinned first.” “Okay, I’m not treating my child with the dignity and respect owed him as human, but he acted so foolishly.” “Yes, I should not have spoken about that person the way I did, but did you hear what she did to me?”

In Ephesians 3.8 Paul says,

To me, though I am the least of all the saints, this grace was given

Here is the man who wrote nearly half of the books in the New Testament. And his view of himself is that he is the least of all the saints.

When I view your sin as worse than mine I will always have an excuse for withholding love or forgiveness or even mere kindness. When I view your sin as worse than my sin I have an excuse to sin against you, because it will feel like justice.

But when I view my sin as worse than your sin I will be quick to forgive because I know how much I have been forgiven. I will be quick to empathize because I know the temptations that are common to all of us. I will not withhold love from you because God does not withheld His love from me when I sin.

Is there someone in your life whose sin you are convinced is worse than your own? Is there a “lesser” saint than you in your life? What would your relationship look like if you were to view your own sin as worse than theirs? How would it affect your interactions, your attitude, your heart? What if you made as many excuses and explanations for his or her sin as you do for your own? “He was tired.” “She had a rough day.” “He’s really been under a lot of pressure.”

Brotherly love will find any number of extenuations for the sins of others, only for my sin is there no excuse whatsoever.

Galatians 6.2,3

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Enjoy the Journey.

Hope for Hump Day, November 6

I saw this video the other day.

What had this Dad weeping tears of joy for his son?  A ‘C.’  His son got a ‘C’ on a Math exam that would determine the direction of the rest of his academic career.

This got me thinking two simultaneous thoughts.

My first thought was as a dad.  Do my children know that I rejoice in their God-given mediocrity?   Do I rejoice in their God-given mediocrity?  Or have I bought the lie that the only things worth celebrating in my child are stand out, out of the park performances?  Social media is overflowing with those humble brags about all the amazing accomplishments of our kids.  Have we made them the most arrogant and anxious generation?  One reason children are “specializing” earlier and earlier is that the world only recognizes and praises above average performances.  As a parent am I supporting this lie?  When is the last time you rewarded mediocrity (or even a sub-par performance according to the world’s scale)?  This is not a post about everyone getting a trophy and no longer keeping score at little league games.  If anything that makes my point.  But as a parent are you vocally, regularly, genuinely joyful with your child over every aspect of his or her life?  I am not advocating laziness or working below one’s ability but simply as parents helping our children, as Tony Horton would say, “Do your best, and forget the rest.”

My second thought was as a son.  My heavenly Father has this same heart toward me.  He has created me with some abilities that may be above average, but mostly with abilities that are average and quite a few that are below average.  And when I use any of them at the level He has gifted them to me, He is pleased.  My Father in heaven shouts with joy over me like this Dad:

Let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing

Zephaniah 3.16,17

My Father in heaven throws a party every time I admit failure and return to him.  In fact He happier over one admitted failure than ninety-nine humble brags

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15.7

Your Father in heaven is delighted n every aspect of who you are as His child.  He knows the areas you are above average and is pleased by them.  He knows the ways in which you are average and is pleased in those areas.  He knows where you are even below average, and He rejoices.

May you know the weeping joy of your Heavenly Father over your average performances today and this week.

Enjoy the journey.