Friday, June 28, 2013

Rhythms of Rest

Today's post comes from my friend and mentor, Ned Berube. Ned has been married 42 years to Sue, with 6 children ages 22-38 and 5 grandchildren ages 2-9. He's (joyfully) survived 38 years in pastoral ministry, 2 church plants, and is the current president of the ARC, as well as serving as a leadership consultant with Whitewater Ministries the last 4 years. In light of my recent post regarding working while resting, Ned has written some thoughts on celebrating Sabbath rhythms.

As a young pastor in 1975, I threw myself headfirst into caring for the flock and largely lost track of the reality of marriage and family. It took an article in which a Christian leader wrote about time management and outlined how he prioritized his wife and family as the first order of business in his "ministry". That was a game changer for me. I also began to take a week every January to get apart and recalibrate my priorities for life.

Doesn't he look like your favorite Grandpa?

In 1986 I attended a conference in Michigan that among other things pointed to the necessity of establishing core values and commensurate practices that would help to establish a culture that reflected the kingdom of God. One of the significant features of this culture building was the understanding of celebration. The relative richness of any culture is often seen by the events and values that they celebrate. And if in fact the practice of celebration is weak or non-existent, the values of the culure will diminish and finally get lost. And the culture will expire.

Returning from that conference, I began implementing a recognition of our core values and practices that undergirded these values. The results were profound. Our identity as a people flourished and our mission became clearer and more fruitful. But at one more conference in 2006, I heard another perspective on celebration and sabbatical rhythms that furthered my commitment to this approach to ministry. Sharing from the mind of God as outlined to Israel, the speaker unpacked the biblical understanding of Sabbath and the Jewish feasts. The core principles that I ferreted from this time were:
  1. The point of a weekly Sabbath is to return to God as your Source of all provision and to delight oneself afresh in His goodness and generosity. Failing to get there often will probably result in trusting one's own capacities to navigate life and relegating God to an emergency role, kind of a divine EMT. To live by faith means that we are receiving from a living God who is always seeking to provide for us out of His covenant nature.
  2. Celebrating what one values establishes the core value more deeply. Failing to do so will end in diminishment and loss.
  3. Disciples/people are shaped by culture as well as principle. The communal dynamic is crucial. And the culture of the community must be constructed thoughtfully.
  4. Stopping is a practice that is not well known among both believers and non. We are driven by wrong priorities and false time constraints to the point that we easily feel out of control and discouraged. The sabbatical rhythm of stopping and remembering what is important and reflecting with the Spirit regarding next steps is a rhythm that no leader of God's people can neglect.
  5. Building culture must be done intentionally and carefully or the power of the surrounding culture will overwhelm and define in unhealthy ways. 
Four years ago I took my first real sabbatical. I wasn't burnt out largely because I had been reasonably careful regarding sabbatical rhythms in my personal and family life. But the result of those 6 months apart were remarkable. As I made a transition into more of a consultant rather than local church role, I found a renewal of creativity and grace and desire that continues to this day. I often think of this renewal in light of God's command to Israel to let the land lie fallow every seventh year and trust Him to not only provide for them during that fallow year but to literally allow the soil to be renewed in its composition. That's exactly what occurred for me, a deep renewal of the soul.
Sabbatical rhythms are not at all about rule-keeping. Rather it is the wisdom of God for personal and corporate health and the capacity to last long and bear much fruit.

What kind of sabbatical rhythms have you found in your life? When was the last time you took some rest?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Holding it Together

I start most days with the best intentions.

I have an ongoing to-do list, keep an up-to-date calendar, plan our meals a week at a time, and strategize how to approach projects. I try to go to bed at 10pm (and make it by 11 most nights!).

But I've discovered this great truth: there just isn't enough time in the day to accomplish everything.

In one sense, I've always known this, because I don't usually care if I cross things off the to-do list and I am definitely not an Achiever.  But as we now prepare to plant a church in New York City, time seems so much more precious and I constantly feel like I'm grasping just to hold onto it a little longer.

We all like to believe the illusion that we have our lives together, that we're actually in control of each moment. When my day goes as I've planned, I can pat myself on the back at the end of it and congratulate myself on how well prepared, how disciplined and industrious, I was. Good job, self! You accomplished and earned everything you wanted today.

But what happens when my day feels overwhelming before it's even started, when the to-do list has only grown longer, when I've let people down because I couldn't make time for them, when my children are whining and clinging to me, when our calendar is empty of support-raising appointments, when there are phone calls, thank you notes, newsletters, blog posts, and messages to write and I haven't had time even to eat? If completing these tasks is dependent on my ability, then when I fail (as I always do), what do I say to myself then?

Some days, I feel like I'm barely holding it together. Some days, it takes everything in me not to scream at my husband and kids and walk out the door without a backward glance. When I look at our meager finances, our unfinished house, our too-fast-approaching desired departure date, I am tempted to despair. When I think of all the people I need to call, to see, to connect with, I am exhausted.

But the problem in all of this, whether good days or bad, is that I'm looking at me.
I am not the center of the universe. I cannot scoop up the ocean in my hands, nor measure the sky between my thumb and little finger. I did not make the stars or am able to call each one by name. I have no control even over the next breath that I take, much less the order of my day or the tasks I can complete. And I certainly cannot take credit for bringing people onto our support team or successfully sending us to NYC.

No, instead, I have to look to Jesus. For he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Jesus is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  

All things, like my family. My calendar. My hopes and plans. My fears and disappointments. My life, my to-do list, my finances, my house, my relationships.  

My life isn't about me, nor is it about how well or how much I achieve. For Christ has already accomplished everything on my behalf! The truth is, I do a terrible job at "holding it all together". So today, every day, I turn to him. He is God after all.

So, have I let you down lately?


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Restful Work (or, Working While At Rest)

All good Christians know the biblical truth that Jesus serves us so that we can serve others. He is called our Sabbath rest. But most of us struggle to work that out tangibly - what does it actually look and feel like to have Jesus serve me?

When Jesus walked the earth, he gathered a group of 12 guys around him to learn from and serve like him. At one point, he gave them authority over demons and sent them out to all the surrounding towns. He told them that they should take nothing but a staff for their journey —no food, no carry-on bag, no money, no extra change of clothes. And they were to depend on the hospitality of strangers for a place to sleep each night. So these guys are out preaching some pretty tough stuff, casting out demons, healing the sick - and hoping that someone else is going to feed, clothe, and house them day after day. I’m guessing this took some faith and more than a little hard work.

They come back from their travels and gather around Jesus to tell him all their stories. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” Rest! YES! Exactly what they needed, right? They’ve been walking alot, working alot, and surrounded by so many people that they didn’t even have time to eat. Getting away with Jesus, by themselves, to a secluded place, so that they could REST - sounds perfect.

So they got in a boat and headed to a private little spot.

But crowds of people - in fact, at least 5,000 people - saw them trying to get away, RAN ahead of them, and got to their supposed-to-be-secluded place first.

At this point, I’d guess these 12 guys were feeling a little miffed. They might have been thinking, “People, I’ve just spent days (weeks?) out on the road. I’m hungry. I’m tired. I need a break. It’s my turn to hang out with Jesus. GO AWAY.”  They’re not saying this out loud, of course, but inside, they’re hoping that Jesus has some kind of get-away plan.

But instead, when Jesus sees the large crowd, he feels compassion for them and he begins to teach them. Not only that, he teaches them all day long.

ALL DAY LONG. What is up, Jesus?!? You just invited your guys, your tired, travel-weary inner-circle, to get away ALONE WITH YOU so that they could rest. And THIS - THIS? - is how you give rest to them? I have to believe at least some of the disciples were introverts - so they’re especially ticked off by this turn of events. Finally, though, when evening comes, the guys find an appropriate way to get rid of the crowd. They mention to Jesus that it’s getting late and that they’re a ways out from town, so it’s probably time to send people home in order to buy themselves some food.

But he answered them, “You give them something to eat!” (emphasis mine)

Whoa -- wait a minute. Not only did we not get rest, not only have we had to put up with 5,000 people all day long, but now you expect us, in the middle of the desert, to FEED THESE FREAKING PEOPLE?!? That would cost, like, more than $10,000*, not to mention the fact that there’s no freaking fast-food joints around here. You have got to be kidding, Jesus.

And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” And when they found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” And he commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. And he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, he blessed the food and broke the loaves and he kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and he divided up the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied,  and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish.

Did you catch what’s happening here? Do you see what it means to rest in Jesus and to let him serve you?

The last thing these 12 guys wanted was to be around more people. Yet, Jesus invites them to do just that, and not only that, but also to serve the people (did you notice that he has the disciples hand out the food? think about how long it would take to distribute individual pieces of bread and fish to a crowd of 5,000). Rather than being alone and resting, these men were crowded and put to work. So was Jesus lying when he said, “come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest awhile”?

What does “rest” look like to Jesus? What did he give the disciples?

  • Well, they got to sit and spend an entire day listening to the Master Teacher, who provides words of life (spiritual food).

  • Second, they witnessed a miracle. Re-read how the food was multiplied. The people are sitting, spread out, across the desert. Jesus breaks the bread and hands it to his disciples, who pass it out. The disciples are the ones closest to Jesus, who witness this meager amount of food increasing and increasing and increasing until everyone is fed to the point of satisfaction (more than one helping?) AND there are TWELVE baskets left over.

  • Who do you think took home the leftovers? (not to mention the fact that they were also fed in the first place - their physical hunger was satisfied)

  • Additionally, who do you think was thanked for this miracle? To the people, who is providing their food?

If you ask me, the disciples received a whole lot more than they were asked to give; and what they did give was completely provided by Jesus. HE was the one working in this situation, yet THEY received all the benefits. But their tired, ungrateful hearts did not understand what was happening and they left this experience bitter about not getting what they expected. I know this because, later that night, the bible records that they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.

You will burn out in ministry if, like the disciples, you demand that Jesus meet your expectations rather than sit at his feet and receive from him. You will burn out from serving others if you don’t first eat what God provides and give only that which you have been given. Restful work can only happen if your eyes are on Jesus rather than yourself and if your heart is fully satisfied in him rather than the circumstances around you. 

I pray that we approach God needy and hungry so that we can be filled up by his Spirit alone!

* A denarii is approximately one day’s wages. The current minimum wage in Minnesota is $7.25/hr so a 7 hour day would yield $50.75 x 200 days of work = $10,150.