On Burnout

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength
(Isaiah 30:15).

woman-alone-sleeping-occupation-professional_1262-839

Journal entry from April 19, 2007. I’m tired, so very tired. And it’s my own doing. I control my own schedule, so why did I do this to myself? I’m neglecting my own needs for the sake of others, and I’m neglecting my family’s needs for my own. I’m tired physically and emotionally and can feel depression creeping in. It’s time to say no to everyone today and spend time with God. Just for now. For one hour, I’m going to focus on Jesus. Shut out the needs and screams of others demanding my attention.

You take care of them, Lord. I give the whole package up to you: my schedule, the people in my life, my day, my accomplishments. Today is Your day. I will take it at Your pace, one thing at a time, one step at a time. I pray that You will screen my interruptions today. Guide my every thought. Amen.

April 20. Yesterday was rejuvenating to me. I took the whole day just for me. I deep-cleaned the house, balanced the checkbook, sorted stuff out, made cookies, went shopping for groceries. The one thing I didn’t do was answer the 25 phone calls that rang! It felt awful doing so, but I was beyond caring. I knew I had to take care of myself before I could take care of others. It felt so good to get my house in order. Now I’m ready to serve again.

Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Lift up your voice to God.
Praise with the spirit and with understanding,
O magnify the Lord.

Curious Thoughts on Exodus 32

Desert

When I read a chapter like Exodus 32, I end up with more questions than answers. I hope this doesn’t sound sacrilegious, but this inquiring mind wants to know.

Here’s the scene: After 40 days on Mount Sinai, Moses and Joshua (yes, he was there also) come down the mountain, 10 commandments in hand, after negotiating with God regarding not annihilating the whole Israelite nation. They have been in the very presence of holiness and purity.

While standing at the gate (What gate? What was it made of? Why was it there?), Moses calls out for the people to join the Lord’s side. How did Moses get their attention? How did he speak to a million people at the same time without a PA system? Did he yell at everyone near him to go to his or her own tent and they each passed the word to their neighbor? Or were they all together in a mob and the front guys passed the word back to those behind them? (Like playing the game “gossip” or “telephone,” I can imagine how that message would have gotten garbled!) Or did Moses just speak to the elders of each tribe who spoke to the clan leaders who fanned out to relay the message to those under them?

By this time, Moses had already ground down the golden calf and made them all drink it. (How do you force someone to drink something nasty anyway?! It’s not like he held a gun to their heads.)

So now Moses has all the Levites standing with him (Levi, the original brother, was no saint, but somewhere down the line, someone made some godly choices), and God honors that, and He gives them instructions to kill/murder/slay their fellow Israelites who aren’t on God’s side. And the Bible says they slew 3000 men! Does that include women and children? If not the women, can you imagine all those women being left widows? Knowing God’s dealings at other times with rebellious people, I suspect that whole families were annihilated. It says, “They went from gate to gate (there are those gates again).”

Apparently they had divisions between them—maybe to separate the tribes? Maybe to contain their animals? BTW, how did they find enough grazing food—not to mention water—for all those animals in the desert? The statistics are mind-boggling.

How difficult was it for the Levites to obey God? What residual emotional and psychological effects would they have had after this massive slaughter? Who had to bury all the corpses? And how do you bury that many people in the desert? I suppose they cremated them, but what a stench that would have been!

And didn’t the victims try to fight back? I’m sure they didn’t just stay put when they saw sword-wielding Levites coming toward them! They must have tried to run and hide . . . but where? . . .  or attempted to defend themselves. Chaos! Maybe the Levites came after the victims while they all slept! (I doubt it.)

And who inherited all their stuff—their tents and clothes and cooking utensils and sheep? (Can you imagine all the trading and bartering that went on in a camp that size? The entrepreneurs getting rich off their neighbors . . . ) Or maybe they burned their stuff up with the bodies.

My mind can’t wrap around the logistics of such an endeavor. What would it feel like to voluntarily kill your fellow man? Perhaps being clannish, it didn’t feel so bad, but verse 29 says, “Slay every man his brother, companion, and neighbor.” Is this literal or metaphorical? That would mean everyone who had not stepped over the line to join Moses and God. So if your brother or son did not join you, you were instructed to kill him. I can’t let my mind go there.

Following this, God sends a plague. You wonder if in the process of burying or burning this many people with rotting flesh in the desert (it had to be done very quickly) and grief being so strong, they would get ill from it. This is not to negate the miracle of a plague, but to understand the enormous stress they were under. Perhaps the plague weakened them so they wouldn’t seek revenge on the Levites.

God—who can understand His ways? He wipes out humanity with a flood, but keeps a remnant. He wipes out 3000 in one day and keeps the Levites. He allows a holocaust but brings a remnant of Jews back to the land. Abraham asks God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but God only brings out Lot and his women. (I don’t think it was God’s initial intention. Wouldn’t it have been better to have destroyed Lot’s lineage?) But God listens to a man. God wants to wipe out the entire nation of Israel, but Moses intervenes and asks God to spare them. God agrees—but only partially. He knew what was best.

Whose side am I on? Will I be willing to do the hard thing when You ask it of me?

Holiness, holiness is what I long for.

Holiness, holiness is what I need.

Holiness, holiness is what you want from me.

 

Dress for God’s House

You shall reverence my sanctuary (Leviticus 26:2).

I grew up on the mission field attending a church with backless mud benches, a cement floor, and a tin roof. The worshipers arrived each Sunday decked out in their very best attire. One day I was amused to observe a lady proudly wearing a bra over top of her clothing. (Bras were unheard of in that village, so I assume she was showing off her new purchase from the village market.)

I’ve listened to the debate between the old and the young regarding what is acceptable attire for church. My mother believed we should wear our best on Sunday morning in the sanctuary to show honor to God. My children think that God doesn’t really care what we wear.

I say both are correct—or both are wrong.

If I dress up in order to impress people, then I’m a hypocrite if I claim I’m doing it for God. In my African village, the American tradition of wearing a new Easter outfit was unheard of, but at the day-long Christmas service every single person in attendance had to have new clothes–for show I surmise. If we proclaim that we must give God our best on Sunday mornings, then why don’t we show up in tuxedos and formal gowns? (My mother did not have an answer for that one.) I wonder sometimes, however, if coming to church in sloppy or casual clothing results in sloppy or casual worship. On the other hand, if I arrive feeling comfortable in my clothing, I’m not distracted by hurting feet in high heels.

How much does culture weigh into this discussion? If I attend a church where the norm is more formal, it is appropriate to honor that culture. If casual is acceptable, then you might feel out of place showing up in a suit coat. In either case, we are admonished not to judge each other over our attire.

Does God really care what I wear to church? I doubt it. I think He’s more interested in my heart.

What do you think?

 

Pagan Holidays

In II Kings 23:4-7 we’re told that King Josiah cleansed the temple—not a synagogue, but the sacred temple in Jerusalem—where articles for Satan worship had been used for several decades. By now, asherah poles and houses for male prostitutes were fixtures.

Having been to this holy site in Jerusalem, it is unconscionable to me that anything unholy was ever permitted there. How could the people have strayed so far from the God who loved them? Josiah was 8 years old when crowned king, and 18 years later he discovers The Book of the Law and begins to obey God’s commandments. Up to that point in his lifetime, he had no clue what true worship was supposed to look like.

The question for us today is—what festivals do we practice that have pagan origins or overtones? Why do we celebrate Halloween? Christmas? Easter? I know some who have taken a stand against these holidays and refuse to go trick-or-treating, put up Christmas trees, or pexels-photo-356330decorate Easter eggs. I can respect that. But I don’t think it’s evil to display a tree in my house or send my kids on an egg hunt. In the past I’ve rolled my eyes at those who condemn these holidays as being pagan in origin and therefore shun all activities associated with them—and then I begin to think what if they were right? And what would it take for me to buck the culture and stand up for what’s right and holy and God-ordained?

Finding out the origin of Halloween is a no-brainer. But did Christmas and Easter begin in paganism or with Christ-followers? I hate what Christmas has turned into, and I cringe when I see bunnies and eggs in our churches. Why? Because Easter baskets weren’t part of my upbringing, and because of its association, I guess, to the fertility goddess. Perhaps, like Josiah’s day, we’ve strayed far from the purity of our original celebrations.

And then we rationalize. They may have pagan origins, but Christians say they have reclaimed the holidays for God. We’re not worshipping anyone but the one true God—even if we hide Easter eggs in our backyard—and we’ve turned the symbol into a Resurrection Egg. Is it ONLY a matter of the heart that’s important? The birth of Christ and His resurrection are legitimate historical events—so why shouldn’t we celebrate them?

My mind is free-wheeling here, but the thought crosses my mind that if these two holidays were truly of pagan origin, we wouldn’t celebrate them . . . or would we?

What if I found out, like Josiah, that I’d been doing it all wrong all my life? Would I have the courage to stand up to culture?

A God of Second Chances

. . . The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . . (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV).

How do you reconcile these two statements?

He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin.
He does not leave the guilty unpunished.

These verses about God’s character intrigue me. The Old Testament leaves me feeling like God is an angry, judgmental God, quick to wipe out the earth with a flood or a plague or an infestation of snakes to decimate certain ones who’ve rebelled. Of course the book of Revelation in the New Testament has its share of judgments as well.

But then I think of the years and years that God waited—patiently, mercifully, kindly, slow to anger, waiting for His creation to repent and turn around and look at Him. It was an act of MERCY to destroy the earth with a flood. He saved many generations from destruction by preventing their birth. He knew what direction His creation was heading.

Do not accuse my God of being harsh. He waits and gives second chances and loves and weeps and calls and nudges. But there is a limit even to God’s patience. It is actually more merciful for Him to stop man in his tracks than to allow him to infect future generations.

My God is merciful, gracious, forgiving, full of lovingkindness and truth, but when I know God has directly commanded something, I dare not disobey, glibly expecting Him to withhold judgment.

But what if you are a victim of someone else’s sin, and you cry out to God, “How long must evil continue?” And He replies, “I’m giving the perpetrator another chance to turn to Me,” how would you respond?

Is My God Box Too Small?

Any belief that isn’t part of your experience remains in the shadow of doubt (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC).

Left to Tell, by Immaculée Ilibagiza, is a moving and powerful story of a Rwandan genocide survivor. In this book Immaculée recalls how God protected her, how her faith grew during the ordeal, and how she found God’s power strong enough to forgive her enemies.

My Protestant roots antennae shot up, however, when I read how Jesus AND MARY, the mother of Jesus, appeared to Immaculée and ministered to her. This scenario flies in the face of mypieta-by-michelangelo_2463081 Baptist upbringing. Was it truly Mary or was it simply a visual that God gave her because He knew it would comfort her heart?

Does God use what we believe and are familiar with when He speaks to us? Does God accommodate us in our beliefs with which we’ve grown up? OR does Mary, the Mother of Jesus, truly have a role in ministry to us here on earth? From my understanding of Scripture, I would say no, but how do I account for this person’s experience?

I have a couple Gentile friends who believe we should eat according to Old Testament dietary laws and worship on the Sabbath. Does God honor their hearts—their desire to return to the origins of our Christian faith? Are Protestants out of God’s will for worshiping on Sunday and eating pork? Who gets to decide what’s right?

I want to be holy. I want to do right, be right. I want to honor God with my lips and my actions. But what if I’m doing wrong out of ignorance? Does God honor my heart attitude? King David did right most of the time, but fell once, and conviction ate him up inside. Can I trust the Holy Spirit to convict me, to guide me, to prompt me?

While praying with people in my ministry, I’ve often been astonished at the answers God gives them that bring them to peace. “How can that be?” I wonder. I freely admit that my God-box is simply too small. Am I okay with the fact that Immaculée claimed to have seen Mary and Jesus and that they ministered to her? Is my God-box big enough to handle it—that her experience is hers and “what is that to me?” Like Mary, I “ponder all these things in my heart.”

I also hear the echoes of my teachers and pastors who cry out for doctrinal purity—who are careful to interpret the Scriptures faithfully according to their understanding. But who’s to say their interpretation is always the right one? Warren W. Wiersbe says, “Godly men differ.” We come to the Holy Scriptures with the biases of our own experiences, our triggers, our needs, our culture, our upbringing. How can we shake off error and embrace truth?

Will God honor obedience to what we THINK is right—even if it’s wrong? In Leviticus law, it didn’t SEEM to matter what the heart was—it was all about adherence to a set of rules. Or was it? God made provision for the unintentional sin.

I want to do right and to adhere to truth that I know and understand. If my friend chooses to keep kosher out of conviction, should I follow? No, I don’t think so. Then I would be following one woman’s leading instead of Jesus’ conviction on my own heart. But what if God gave me a vision of Mary ministering to me? How would I respond?

So does God have (or reveal) different truths for different people? Or is there only one truth, applied many ways? I believe that there is only one Truth—and His name is Jesus. Look to Him alone as the author and finisher of our faith and leave all others to God to handle, instruct, and teach. I’m not responsible for the way God works in others. I am only accountable for myself and my relationship to Him.

We all have blind spots. I wonder what error, mis-belief, or false teaching I hold to in my life?

But It’s Against the Rules!

 

RefereeThis may be a hot topic for some, but I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve changed my views on this subject over time. I’ve moved from dogmatically opposed to cautious acceptance to taking my hand off the lid of the box and letting God be God. I’ve come to realize that some rules are guidelines, not always absolutes.

  • The posted minimum speed limit on the freeway is 40.
    But in fog or heavy snow, it would be foolish to try to maintain that speed.
  • The rule stated that only priests were allowed to eat the holy showbread.
    When there was no other food available, King David ate some of the consecrated bread and was not condemned for his action.
  • The fourth commandment says to keep the Sabbath day holy.
    Jesus healed the sick and “harvested” grain on the Sabbath.
  • The norm was for male judges to rule over Israel.
    One of the 12 judges in the Bible was Deborah.

The norm is for male pastors to provide church leadership. Can there be exceptions without violating Paul’s instructions to Timothy?

What do you think?

 

Too Many Hats

hats-fedora-hat-manufacture-stackThis journal entry goes back to my teaching days at a junior college, but I find I still have seasons when I struggle to find that perfect balance in my various life roles.

The demands on my time have increased exponentially this winter. I’m trying to wear five to six different hats at once, and each one is a fulltime job: housewife, mom, teacher, editor, office worker, prayer minister. Each job has its joys and challenges. Each by itself is manageable, but put them all together and it’s a recipe for burnout.

Right now I’m struggling to wear my teacher hat. Yesterday’s English class was sheer melodrama. One student cried the whole class because her grandpa was dying. Another left early because her mom was taken to the ER. And a third was irate and belligerent because she failed to follow the instructions for an assignment, created some other work to make up for it, and then didn’t get credit for it. Who needs this kind of grief!?

Why did I agree to take this job in the first place? It has its rewarding moments, but for an introvert like me, teaching drains me, wears me out, and is stressful and time-consuming. Give me a desk job shuffling papers any day! Or wearing my prayer minister hat—now that’s fun and rewarding. So why did God give me this source of revenue? I’m grateful, but it’s not filling my soul. I don’t think I’m suited for this task.

If I could compartmentalize a little more, maybe I could focus better. I want to put each job into a box and let it stay there until its allotted time to think about it. But my mind doesn’t work that way–it’s not wired to multi-task. It’s racing and scattered and unfocused.

And so I mentally go to the hall closet, snatch up my jumble of hats and toss each one into a different room. Now when I’m in one room, that’s all I can focus on. I can’t BE in two rooms at the same time.People/relationships can walk in and out of each room I’m in, and I can stop and interact with them.

The first challenge for me right now is being in one room physically while I’m in another room mentally. I find I want to hurry up with the tasks in this room so that I can get back to the Study or the Library or the Rec Room. The other challenge is deciding which room I need or want to be in and when.

And God? Thankfully He’s in every room of my house. However, I desperately need concentrated, uninterrupted time in the Prayer Room.

Lord, help me to be fully present with each person who enters each room of my house today. And will You be my Guide for which room(s) to work in and when?

How do YOU manage your closetful of hats?

 

Excuses Excuses!

Walking

All of my life I have struggled with getting enough exercise. I seem to be able to do it for a while and then I quit the routine.  I envy those who seem to enjoy it and thrive on bodily movement. I have one daughter who thinks dancing is fun. I prefer to sit in the library and read!

I prefer to excuse my lack of exercise as a physical or time issue, but if I’m honest with myself, it’s really a spiritual one. My body is God’s temple. I know that and I practice it when it comes to sexual purity, but somehow choosing to stay healthy doesn’t feel like such a priority—and I know this attitude will come back to bite me someday.

A tithe of time for a 24-hour period is 2.4 hours. I can manage to devote one hour to nourishing my soul and another hour to feeding my spirit, so why can’t I devote one hour to maintaining the body?

So . . . is it a priority to me or is it not? It’s time to put my excuses down on paper and examine my heart.

#1 I don’t enjoy it, so it feels like a chore, and chores feel like . . . work.
#2 I don’t have it scheduled into my daily routine.
#3 Routine, for me, is best kept if it’s scheduled for first thing in the morning, but I have other priorities in place already for that time slot.
#4 It’s a time factor. I don’t have enough time in my morning routine to add a half hour of exercise. But if I delay it till later in the day, other things crowd it out.
#5 It’s a timing issue. I don’t want to do it when I’m too hungry or too full. I know–more excuses.
#6 I’m not hurting enough. Only pain seems to get me motivated.

Here’s my visual: I see a stand-up, circular shell (like a stiff grass zana mat in a Nigerian village).

zana mat to use

The soul/spirit inside may be nice and supple, but the shell is hard and rigid. And that’s okay if I plan to remain in one place. And that’s okay if my body is paralyzed like  quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada and I don’t have a choice. But I do have a choice.

What is my motivation to loosen up the shell? If the soul starts to move, and the shell can’t keep up, the shell will trip and fall on its face. And then the body will become dependent on other people to care for it.  (Forgive me, my daughters, if that happens.)

I can see myself in a race, zana mat around me, but now I have feet and legs. So what’s keeping me from finishing the race? Those pesky excuses.

What’s yours?

Postscript: Once I worked through and addressed each of my excuses, I began walking my neighborhood 2-3 times a week with no emotional resistance. I invested in an iPod so I could listen to podcasts and books on tape, and I started to snap photos of trees and flowers that reflect the changing seasons. Eventually, I found myself looking forward to this body movement (I still can’t bring myself to call it exercise!)

On Love

Let love for your fellow believers continue and be a fixed practice with you—never let it fail. (Hebrews 13:1)

God loved me when I was most unlovely, and He loved me before I loved Him. In turn, I want to radiate God’s love to others, no matter what they are like or how they treat me. But how does one do that?

pexels-photo-256711

My Visual:  I see a thick steel cable stretching from the cross to the end of time. And I am walking on a platform beneath this cable, but I cannot fall off because I am harnessed and hooked onto the cable with a permanently sealed brass ring. Nothing can release me from God’s love or His covenant (Heb. 13:20-21). I may slip or stumble, but the cable from me to Him is strong. I will not fall. I am safe.

An obstacle in my path might try to prevent me from moving forward, but God can remove it for me. Or my brass ring might get tarnished and I’ll need to polish it with prayer. I may get distracted on my journey, but sometimes it’s okay to stop and look around and rest and see the beauty and the scenery around me. I get so focused on my goal that I forget to do that sometimes.

And now I see that I’m actually on a moving platform. It’s God’s job, God’s timing, and His decision as to when to move the platform forward and when to make it stop still—because my concern is not the end goal (I can’t see the end anyway because it stretches to eternity). For now, I have a job to do—rest when He says rest; keep alert when He moves me forward; look around and enjoy the scenery; fight the good fight, keep my spiritual armor on at all times.

Suddenly I see myriads of other cables—each person is hooked to his/her own, each on a separate platform. I can reach out and touch several people. One is on a steady platform, and we spur each other on to love and good works. Another one is afraid. Her platform is wobbly, disconnected, unstable, and she keeps looking down. I keep encouraging her to take the next step and to put her faith in the cable. Another one accuses me falsely of knocking her off-balance. I remind her to refocus on her own cable. Help me, Lord, to love well each one in my sphere of influence.

Let us continue to invest our lives in people even though we may not see immediate results. (Missionary Sam Goertz)