Take My To Do List Upon You

To do listAt the end of Matthew 11 Jesus has been working so hard it is almost unbelievable. Teaching, healing and listening to people all day. Staying up many times all night in prayer. Often he didn’t even stop to eat. After months of this and hundreds of astonishing miracles he finds that the vast majority simply don’t believe his message.

You might think that Jesus would be discouraged. Is he about to break under the stress and obvious failure of all his hard work? Then at verse 25 he stops,  looks up to heaven and begins to praise God in sheer joy. How is this possible?

Next he gives us one of the most profound teachings in all of the Bible. He does it by using imagery from everyday life: oxen and yokes. The huge problem for us is that we no longer have any experience of these things. They remove us from Jesus’ point, exactly the opposite of what they did for his first students.

The ox and yoke were both symbols of work. This is because most people’s everyday work involved oxen and yokes. A yoke is just the thing you put on the ox’s shoulders so it can pull a plow or a cart.

What image represents everyday work for us now? My answer is: a To Do List. This is the symbol of the burdens and tasks we have before us each day. Almost everyone uses one at least some of the time.

So, here is a modern reworking of what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples all those years ago. When almost anyone would have been broken from overwork and apparent failure, Jesus stood up and worshiped, spontaneously full of joy. Then he said,

My Father has given me everything! He truly knows me and I know him. In fact, it is obvious I am the only one who actually knows Him. But my one desire is to teach you what He is like so you can know Him too.

Come to me all of you who are worn out with too much to do. I will set you at rest. Take my To Do List upon you. We will do it together and you will learn to work like me. I am gentle and humble in my heart and you will find rest down to the depths of your soul. Because my work is easy and my list is so light. “

Can this really be true? I am stunned by his words just reading them again. But yes. It is true.

Jesus has a list of stuff to do?  Yes.

How can adding His list to my already way-too-busy life possibly result in me finding rest?!

Because He will be right there next to you doing it all with you! Imagine going through a to do list with Jesus, literally working on the same things together, having Him show you how it is done. What could you accomplish if His kind of power were available?

This is what he is saying. This is the secret of His life. He didn’t go around doing hard stuff he hated because he knew he was supposed to. No. He actually knew God. He joined into the work God was doing and because of their deep working relationship together he was given everything, All Power. The most difficult work imaginable was then joy and rest to him.

His great desire is to teach you and me this secret, to train us to work with Him and share His power, joy and rest.

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Lessons Learned From Christmas Visits with the Elderly

Elderly ManEvery year at Advent I visit some of the ‘shut-ins’ of our church.  That is, members who are now physically unable to attend.  I bring them poinsettias and do my best to listen.  Here are four lessons I learned from the experience this year.

1) Life Is Short

You hear this all the time, but it really sinks in when you hear it again and again from people closer to the end. Almost everyone I visited this year expressed it. Time seems to speed up as you get older. It continues to speed up in old age.

2)  Some People Are Given Time To Reflect At The End Of Life

Many people are given a space at the end of their life where they have nothing to do.  They are no longer working, cooking or cleaning.  Their spouse has passed away along with many friends and relatives. The structures that gave shape to their life are gone.

There are two reactions to this empty time. Some people do nothing, give great importance to things that are trivial and often become depressed or at least bored.  Others seek God and truth in the stillness. They pray, drink in information about God, listen, watch and serve in all kinds of creative ways. These people experience spiritual growth even as their bodies fade.

I met a man who entered into a real, vital relationship with God at the age of 84, after a lifetime attending church. When the busyness of life faded he found God waiting for him in the quiet.

3) No One Cares About Their Job Or Their Money At The End

I can imagine there are cases where people do care about these things at the end, but I didn’t find any.  The elderly still have physical needs of course and that can be expensive, but no one talked to me about money or plans to get more. No one talked about the stock market or investments.  Even more striking, no one told me about their former job. The thing they spent most of their time doing in their life was not even mentioned.

What do they care about?  Four things: God, Family, Trivial Details or Nothing. Some talk about nothing but God and Family, others only talk about the minute details of their schedule.

4) Every Life Is Both Worse And Better Than It Appears

Many of the people I visited opened up to me. Some feel the need to share things with a pastor they have never told anyone before.

Every life is worse than it appears. Beneath the surface are deep wounds, anger, disappointment, depression and struggle. And yet, if you listen long enough you can get beyond this. At the deepest level and everywhere you find a God who is constantly watching, leading, calling and restoring. Take a ‘normal’, decent life.  Look deep enough and you will find vast evil.  But do not stop there.  Look even deeper and you will find God Himself doing amazing things that mostly go unnoticed.

Church Experiments: The Awakening Part 2

alarm clock…this is part two in a series.  Click here for part 1.

Staff Awakening

December, 2008. There were seven adults and six children involved.  All seven committed to the practices in Part 1 and the kids participated in limited ways.  Each person also gave up something they enjoy for the entire 29 days.

During this time we became like a family. Particularly important were the daily phone calls and the shared meals. Conflicts arose after a couple of weeks between people who had never been in conflict before. This was good. In every case it led to deeper relationship. Almost every member of the group commented on personal problems they usually had that were not present during the Awakening. The experience was a mountaintop and spiritual high point.

At the end most of the group was excited to continue in some way. We decided to have meals together once a month and to call each other occasionally. We all agreed to this, but it never happened. Our relationships went back from being like family to friends and co-workers. Once the required discipline and commitment was taken away, all the shared practices and the community that was formed by them evaporated.

Youth Awakening

February, 2009. Seven youth and five leaders committed to do the awakening.

As with the staff the experience created a sense of unity, purpose and seeking after God together. It took longer for this to happen, but by the third week and especially after the retreat everyone in the group felt a real sense of belonging.

This Awakening was much more work for the leaders than the first had been. By the end almost everyone was excited and positive about the experience, including parents. However, before it began there was resistance both from parents and youth over the idea. This was overcome through prayer, listening and explanation.

During the awakening there were amazing changes in many of the youth. Some who had discipline problems and trouble paying attention became helpful and engaged. Some who were shy became excited and involved. Some who prayed only when I made them began to pray on their own. Some read more Bible than required. The three who were baptized were very excited.

Overall, it was a difficult but hugely rewarding experience. I felt as if I had entered the battle instead of sitting on the sidelines. The fight was hard, but things happened. The changes that occurred in this one month were greater than the changes I had seen in three years prior.

Final Thoughts

Our hope was that the Awakening would create a core membership of the youth group that would be united, seek God together and that this core would then draw in others. Over time it succeeded. This group became the core around which a whole new youth group was formed. The new group is larger and much more focused on Christ. Amazingly, Jesus’ strategy of starting with a deep, committed core of people actually works.

However, the Awakening did not work for everyone. Some people who were very committed during the experience could not maintain their commitment to Christ without that community and slowly drifted away.

Book Review: Company of the Committed – Elton Trueblood

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This is an amazing book published in 1961 that predicted what has happen to the church. Trueblood calls for things that many Christians and churches today are just waking up to.

Summary:  The Church is a company of soldiers, metaphorically speaking, who live with Jesus and go forward on his mission in the world. The Church is loving communities established not for themselves, but in order to help and bless everyone else.

Good Stuff:  

Preaching may not in some instances be helpful to those who listen, but it is almost always helpful to those who speak.

“I just let my life speak.”  What one of among us is so good that he can let his life speak and leave it at that?

Sometimes the best witness if that of the church as a whole.

The vital idea is that the pastor is the helper of the ordinary lay members in the performance of their daily ministry in the midst of secular life.

The concept of a churchgoer is inept. Christians may indeed come in but they do so only that they may go out.

In many churches the entire church operation points to a climax on Sunday morning.

The church building [should be like] a drill hall for the Christian task force

Great discipline in regard to style as well as content must be learned if we really seek to reach contemporary minds.

We ask what Presbyterians believe but we seldom ask how Presbyterians love.

In all periods of great vitality the church has been deeply concerned for the welfare of those who are not adherents at all.

If God, as we believe, is truly revealed in the life of Christ the most important thing to Him is the creation of centers of loving fellowship which in turn infect the world.

Complaints:  ??  None really. I love this book.

Also, this book is available for FREE online!

Our Homeschool Pomodoro Lifestyle

tomatesThis is the second year my wife and I (mostly my wife) have homeschooled our two older children. They are currently in grades 6 and 2. Here’s a snapshot of what I call our homeschool pomodoro lifestyle.

First, what is homeschool?  It does not mean teaching your children anti-social tendencies along with math and reading alone in your basement. Homeschoolers don’t have to be weird or particularly intellectual.  Some are, but so are some kids in public school. For us homeschool means learning in a community based on families instead of one based on classes and age.

We are part of a group called the South Delta Home Learners.  We chose that group because it is big and active. The group, along with our church, makes up our kids social and educational world. They do swimming lessons, choir, scouts and all kinds of special educational events with these same people. These are the friends they play with.  They know all the parents and the siblings. Some they call auntie and uncle.  The line between education, recreation, friendship and family is blurred. 

What’s a Pomodoro?  It’s the Italian word for Tomato.  It is also the name of a productivity system named after a tomato shaped kitchen timer. Check it out at www.pomodorotechnique.com.  The pomodoro system is based on focused work for short periods, followed by breaks.  The idea is that by doing this you will be much more productive than if you work straight through the whole day. I believe that’s true. Our experience of homeschool is a lot like the Pomodoro system.

Every morning the kids eat breakfast and begin their work. They focus for an hour and a half.  During that time they get ready, dress, brush teeth, make beds, read their bible, do their chores, and do all their Math, Reading and Writing for the day.  What?! Only an hour and a half?  Yes, that’s right, in that amount of focused time every day they can easily keep up with provincial learning objectives for those subjects.

After that their days are different.  Sometimes they play the rest of the morning then go to a friend’s house.  Sometimes they have structured activities: swimming, scouts, music lessons, church groups, etc. Anyone who went to public school, like me, would think their schedule is remarkably free. Every Thursday we take a rest day, as I have written about here.  Our entire family essentially does nothing for whole day.

So far the results of this homeschool lifestyle are fantastic. The kids like school and even enjoy the subjects they don’t like a little. They keep up with school and are able to spend lots of time having new experiences and doing what they want. They have more friends than I ever had growing up and these friendships are of a different kind. They are friendships between families. We focus hard, then we rest and play. I am not suggesting homeschool is the only way, just that it can be pretty awesome for some families.

 

by Isaac Whting

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Book Review – Everyday Church

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 by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Summary:  The church is at the edge of society. We need to accept it and redefine church as small groups of people living life deeply together with a purpose to spread the gospel.  Our main thing needs to be small groups sharing life and mission together instead of Sunday morning.

Good Stuff:

“We have a loose connection with Christians on Sunday but then largely we go back to living our everyday lives on our own.”

True Biblical rebuke and correction can only happen when people share everyday life together.

“The church leader is someone who is sacrificed from the front life to equip everyone else for the front line. “

Law says “You Should…”  Gospel says “You need not…”

“We need truths we already know pushed down into the everyday realities of our lives.”

“Many Christians function as if the church is a meeting…an entity with structures such as constitutions, ministers, elders, committees and so on.”

Ministry is something done by ordinary Christians with the support of pastors.

An interesting section on how to speak gospel ideas into everyday conversations.

“A good church is a church in which the believers share their lives together as an alternative and authentic society.”

“This is what we are all about: just hanging out, doing nothing spectacular, but with gospel intentionality.”

“If the bulk of a church’s time and energy goes into the Sunday meeting, then everyday church will not happen.”

Complaints:

Some of their suggestions for how to do everyday mission sound like it is only for super social outgoing people. They say you should eat meals with other people as much as possible, walk places and be a regular at certain stores so you can strike up conversations with strangers and you should be exciting not boring.  “You will never attract people to Jesus if you are not excited about Jesus.”  “Our job is to have fun to the glory of God!”

In their conclusion they say groups of believers living together on mission must be more important than Sunday mornings for it to work.  But then they suggest you could keep the current model of church and just add some small gospel community groups to it. Which one is it?

Conclusion:

Overall a good book. They ran out of steam a couple of places, but most of it is useful.  It goes over the standard missional church story but doesn’t spend too long on it. There is lots of practical advice and examples.  If you have no idea what missional church is or are confused by it like most people, this is a good book to read.

Five Reasons to Take a Day of Rest

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by Isaac Whiting

What is It?

It’s a day of rest or a Sabbath.  I’ve heard people call it a Stop Day. The rules are simple. One day a week we don’t schedule anything. No meetings, no errands, no school, no church, no work.  If someone invites us to dinner… maybe.

On our day of rest we try hard to do nothing. I am not saying we don’t do anything.  I am saying we do nothing. The kids have to fend for themselves in the kitchen.  We put our own dishes in the dishwasher, but slowly.  We read some Bible together and sing songs, but only for a little while. We do whatever we want as long as it is completely unproductive.  If it is on your to-do list or you feel the urge to get it done quickly it is off limits. Oh, and we also stay together.

Now, here are five things this has accomplished in my life.

5) Work Hard Without Being Hopeless

                Life used to seem like an endless stream of work and crises.  Work, get it done, kids yelling, too tired, go to bed, get up and do it again.  Now I know the cycle will end once every week.  When I feel too tired to keep going I know a day of rest is coming.

4) Gives Me Bursts of Power

                This is huge.  Sitting around and doing nothing seems like a waste of time.  But its not! All time is not created equal. We have days where everything clicks.  We have times of day where we can come up with amazing thoughts and solve problems quickly. When I take a day of rest every week I have more of these times and stronger.  How much is that worth?  It’s incalculable.

3) Rest Without Guilt

How else can you get rest without guilt?  Unless you have a day where you are not allowed to get things done you will always feel like you are wasting time.  Rest without guilt is true rest.

 

2) Your Family Will Love It

                If you have a family they will all love your rest day.  My children are more excited about this day than they are about video games, movies and candy. The night before a rest day they go to sleep with smiles on their faces.  How rad is that?

 

1)      You Will Love It

                Finally, you will love it. Taking a day of rest has tons of tangible benefits, but the best reason to do anything is love.  I didn’t love them at first, but now I love them. They are peace and joy and life and fun. What are you working for in your life?