Friday, May 14, 2010
by Mike Yaconelli
When my children were young, track meets filled part of each week during the spring. One particularly hot spring day, I attended a junior high track meet, arriving in the middle of the boys' 1500 meter race. During the last lap of the race, the audience stood, cheering two boys running side-by-side for the final fifty meters. A short distance behind them ran a pack of about four or five boys jockeying for third place. The crowd broke into applause for the first-and second-place finishers, and then crescendoed as the pack fought for third place.
Another runner suddenly caught my attention. As I looked down the track, I saw one boy lagging far behind. Poor kid. The portly seventh grader struggled for each breath, his face red and sweaty, the main artery in his neck bulging and throbbing to supply oxygen to his deprived muscles. Suddenly the woman to my left stepped over me and rushed down to the railing overlooking the track -- obviously the boy's mother.
She screamed, "Johnny, run faster!"
I wish you could have seen the incredulous look on the boy's face. He had been thinking, Mom! I'm running as fast as I can!
Spiritual growth does not happen by running faster.
What keeps many of us from growing is not sin but speed.
Most of us are like Johnny. We are going as fast as we can, living life at dizzying speed, and God is nowhere to be found. We're not rejecting God; we just don't have time for him. We've lost him in the blurred landscape as we rush to church. We don't struggle with the Bible, but with the clock. It's not that we're too decadent; we're too busy. We don't feel guilty because of sin, but because we have no time for our spouses, our children, or our God. It's not sinning too much that's killing our souls, it's our schedule that's annihilating us. Most of us don't come home at night staggering drunk. Instead, we come home staggering tired, worn out, exhausted, and drained because we live too fast.
Speed is not neutral. Fast living used to mean a life of debauchery; now it just means fast, but the consequences are even more serious. Speeding through life endangers our relationships and our souls.
Voices surround us, always telling us to move faster. It may be our boss, our pastor, our parents, our wives, our husbands, our politicians, or sadly, even ourselves. So we comply. We increase the speed. We live life in the fast lane because we have no slow lanes anymore. Every lane is fast, and the only comfort our culture can offer is more lanes and increased speed limits. The result? Too many of us are running as fast as we can, and an alarming number of us are running much faster than we can sustain.
Speed damages our souls because living fast consumes every ounce of our energy. Speed has a deafening roar that drowns out the whispering voices of our souls and leaves Jesus as a diminishing speck in the rearview mirror.
Spiritual growth is not running faster, as in more meetings, more Bible studies, and more prayer meetings. Spiritual growth happens when we slow our activity down. If we want to stay on the road to faith, we have to hit the brakes, pull over to a rest area, and stop. Christianity is not about inviting Jesus to speed through life with us; it's about noticing Jesus sitting at the rest stop.
While the church earnestly warns Christians to watch for the devil, the devil is sitting in the congregation encouraging everyone to watch for the devil, the devil is sitting in the congregation encouraging everyone to keep busy doing "good things." I just received a letter from a woman minister who was on the edge of crashing and burning. She and her family had joined a growing active church and quickly volunteered to help. But two years later, she realized that her entire family was speeding by each other in unrestrained zeal to lead one activity or another at church every week.
"Run faster!" this woman's church bulletin screamed, but the only way she could save her soul from death was to slow down, which meant finding a new job.
Sin does not always drive us to drink; more often it drives us to exhaustion. Tiredness is equally as debilitating as drunkenness. Burnout is slang for an inner tiredness, a fatigue of our souls. Jesus came to forgive us all of our sins, including the sin of busyness. The problem with growth in the modern church is not the slowness of growth but the rushing of growth.
Jesus came to give us rest.
We know we are ready for God to work in our lives when we're tired. When our lives begin to weigh us down, God is present in the heaviness. It turns out that it's weariness that's next to godliness, because when our souls are tired, we are able to hear his voice, and according to Matthew 11:28, what he's saying is, "Come. Rest."
The ugly truth, however, is that many of us do not know how to rest!
Actually, we do know how to rest; we simply refuse to rest. Rest is a decision we make. Rest is choosing to do nothing when we have too much to do, slowing down when we feel pressure to go faster, stopping instead of starting. Rest is listening to our weariness and responding to our tiredness, not to what is making us tired. Rest is what happens when we say one simple word, "No!" Rest is the ultimate humiliation because in order to rest, we must admit we are not necessary, that the world can get along without us, that God's work, does not depend on us. Once we understand how unnecessary we are, only then might we find the right reasons to say yes. Only then might we find the right reasons to decide to be with Jesus instead of working for him. Only then might we have the courage to take a nap with Jesus.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
When my son David was old enough to hold something with his two little hands he started holding any sports ball he could find. It was a rare sight to see him without at least one or two in his hands. One day David and I went with a group of his friends to a kid-friendly place that had cages of colorful plastic balls. David was overwhelmed with how many plastic balls he saw and ran into one of the cages. At one point when I looked over at him, he had so many of those balls in his arms that several were dropping to the floor. He anxiously looked at me and in a very serious voice said, "Too many things." Even though David was visibly upset and even admitted that he had "too many things," he was still so focused on holding on to as many of those "things" as he could that he didn't even want to come out of the cage for pizza.
Trying to hold too many things in our lives keeps us from holding on to things much more important than pizza. These things distract and prevent us from holding on to God and can even create a false sense of security so that we no longer depend on God.
"...you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away..."
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The Parable Of The Zebra
One girl occasionally petted my head, trying to get my Pentecostal hair to lay down. The rest of the groupies peppered me with questions.
I felt like an oddity in a sideshow – Like siamese twins or the snake boy, a giant white stickman from across the ocean is quite a spectacle for the kids of the Maasai tribe.
“How many children do you have?” one asked in perfect English.
“How old are you?”
“What is your favorite meat?” they asked.
I answered all of these questions with a straight face and total lies. Thankfully, these girls have been given the gift of interpretation for my gift of sarcasm. Good job, Compassion. The ice was broken.
“I have 27 children.”
“I am 70 years old.”
“I like to eat lions. But they’re hard to catch now that I’m 70. I’m not very fast anymore.”
Then we talked about Beyonce’s music, and how to kill a cobra, and sang Lord I Lift Your Name On High with much more groove than I’m accustomed to. And one girl advised, out of nowhere, that I never eat a zebra no matter how hungry I get because they are beautiful.
Then Penini, a girl sitting on my left who’d been petting my skin the entire time, asked me, “Why are you white?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “God just made me white and made you beautiful brown.”
“I’m not beautiful,” she said with an appreciative grin. So I played along and told her again.
“You girls are all very beautiful.” And they smiled.
“Why did God make black and white people?”
“Well, that’s a great question,” I said, and I took Penini’s fingers and wove them into mine. Black. White. Black. White.
“These two colors are beautiful together don’t you think? Like a zebra.”
They seemed to like that answer. And they said I should sponsor a girl from Kenya because they are the most beautiful.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Real Life on Food Stampsby Jennifer Wheeler 02-26-2010
I am a single mom living alone with my 3-year-old little boy in southwest Florida. I have worked most of my life and never thought I would be using food stamps to feed myself and family, but due to the events of the last two years, I am the holder of an EBT card (food stamps). To make a long story short, I was blessed to have my son, but his father turned to alcohol and drugs and I found myself standing in front of the home I owned for 17 years, holding an 11 month old baby, with utility bills, a mortgage, medical expenses, car expenses and more, alone. I had no job or babysitter, since my son’s father had wanted me to stay home to raise our son. I took a deep breath, called some friends, found a loving caregiver who was like a second mom to my son, found a job, but was drowning in debt. A third of my paycheck went to pay for daycare, and the rest was spent on the house and car expenses, not to mention formula and diapers. Our church and family rallied together to try to help, but I applied for food stamps in the state of Illinois.
After dragging my little boy to a rundown office in a seedy neighborhood and waiting in endless lines, we were awarded the food stamps. I was employed by Cub foods (a now defunct grocery store chain) so I was very aware of the rules and restrictions of the food stamp program. I sat through many customer service seminars as the pricing coordinator and customer service manager. We were told to treat every customer with respect no matter how they were paying for their purchases.
Since then, I have moved to Florida to escape a domestic violence situation with the father of my son and now receive food stamps here. It is embarrassing to use the EBT card but I want to feed my son and help him grow to a healthy adult.
Food stamps are to be used for food items only. Even though laundry detergent, diapers, toiletries and cleaning supplies are needed, they cannot be purchased with food stamps. Certain prepared foods, like rotisserie chickens, and deli sandwiches are not food stamp able. The idea behind the food stamps is to encourage recipients to prepare meals at home. I am currently a returning college student and am enrolled full time to get an education and become self sufficient again. I am very aware of nutrition and try to choose items that are healthy and fresh. I do use coupons with my stamps to stretch my benefits to get through each month. I try to purchase produce and healthy items as much as possible.
During this time of lent, I get a lot of cheese and tuna, but meats and fresh fruits and vegetable are expensive. Some people have a stereotype of food stamp recipients as lazy, and are taking advantage of taxpayers. I am not lazy and worked almost my entire life and am not looking for a handout. I am very embarrassed to have to use them. Occasionally, I purchase Diet Coke for myself or ice cream for a treat for my son. A woman behind me in line a few weeks ago noticed I was using the EBT card and rolled her eyes and said “I am a taxpayer and it angers me that you can buy stuff on my dime.” I was humiliated. She pointed out the “goodies” and told me I should be getting macaroni and cheese dinners and need to find a job.
Another trip to the grocery store caused me to turn red and want to crawl under the shopping cart. I had picked out some organic cereal bars for my son, who occasionally is a picky eater, and wanted them for him to eat on his way to daycare. The product was not tagged in the store’s computer as being food stamp able, so I could not purchase them with the card. This product was supposed to be a food item but the cashier wanted cash from me for them. I asked to talk to the manager and he told me that he couldn’t sell them to me for payment with the EBT card, and of course there were four people in line behind me. The store was in error but to avoid the stares from the other customers, I asked the cashier to take them off my bill, since I did not have enough cash to pay for them.
I hope that people think before they draw conclusions when seeing someone using food stamps. I do not want a handout, but need to use them to climb out of the situation I am in. You lose a bit of your dignity each time someone gives you a look for using them. I am grateful for the assistance my son and I get, but pray that people know that not everyone using food stamps is a cheat or bum that doesn’t want to work or pay for their groceries.
Jennifer Wheeler is a full-time student and mother living in southwest Florida.
Monday, February 15, 2010
- Elaine Puckett, professor at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia
Haiti: One Month Later, by the Numbersby Martha St. Jean 02-15-2010
One month later rain pours into the streets of Port-au-Prince. Some call it “fresh misery.” I think, how many more buildings will collapse, how many more people will die? But I also think, how many still have hope? How many will view this rain as a washing away of the things that hurt most?
Stories of survival are continuously recounted. I hear daring feats of escape from collapsing buildings and am saddened by the number of days family members have had to do without food, and I am disturbed over the number of people they have watched die. The story of the devastation in Haiti is at times best chronicled using numerical values.
7.0 — The magnitude of the earthquake.
21:53:10 UTC — The time the earthquake struck.
35 — The number of seconds the earthquake lasted.
230,000 — The official Haitian government death toll.
1 million — The number of my countrymen left homeless.
500,000 — The number of Haitian homeless living in camps.
380,000 — The number of Haitian orphans.
2 — The number of dollars many of the island nation’s residents lived on per day.
2, 000 — The estimated number of amputations that have taken place. (This must be much higher, as some hospitals are performing 30-100 per day.)
5,000 — The estimated number of escaped prisoners.
10 — The number of years experts say it will take to rebuild.
63 million — The tons of rubble that need to be removed before the rebuilding can take place.
3 million — The number of people who need help.
57 million — The number of dollars initially raised by the Hope for Haiti telethon.
Countless — the number of prayers lifted up, the number of tears cried, the number of hearts broken in Haiti and all over the diaspora.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Paul David Tripp, writing in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, recalled a scene he had witnessed more than once on his various travels to
The tears that streamed down Paul's cheeks in observing this tragedy were indeed the heartfelt evidence of his compassion. He longed to sweep this boy and his mother into his arms, away from these dreaded depths of sorry and endless need.
But it was more than mere compassion he felt. It was an awareness that neither he nor this little boy had chosen their circumstances in life. The blessings of being raised among plenty, nurtured by godly parents, educated in quality schools, and given over to Christ at a young age began to roll over him in waves, even as he did his best to comfort and console the need pair before him.
"You cannot explain the difference between that little boy and me by anything other than the Lord," he wrote. "Standing there in that slum, I felt all the complaints I had ever spoken as if they were a weight on my shoulders. I was filled with deeper gratitude than I think I have ever felt in my life."
Not long after he arrived back home, Paul was visiting with a church leader from
"Yes, I do," Paul answered. But who could really be ready for this: "You have no idea how much you have," the man said, "and yet you always complain."
We'd all have to agree, wouldn't we? At many levels,
Now would be a good time to speak to the Lord about it.
Father, grant me a spirit and heart that is always abounding, overflowing in gratitude toward You and others. Forgive me for the many times and ways I reflect negatively on Your character and Your goodness by verbalizing discontent and murmuring to others, for being oblivious to so many expressions of Your grace, and for allowing roots of pride and ingratitude to grow up in my heart. Amen.