Tag Archives: Priorities

Heroic Courage? (Perhaps Simply Tired)

3301233153_fce5cd186c_zNow when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Daniel 6:10 (NIV)

This morning I’ve been thinking about the context of Daniel’s life. He had been living in exile since his youth. It is likely that his family starved to death or were slaughtered in the siege of Jerusalem where he witnessed horrific atrocities. He was little more than a slave to his captors. He may have earned their respect, but he never escaped the hatred and discrimination of the people he served. He had survived the insane rages of Nebuchadnezzar. He had witnessed the divinely appointed downfall of Belshazzar. He was now living under his third foreign monarch and yet another group of power hungry middle managers scheming his destruction. Through it all he was a stranger in a strange land, despised by his foreign peers, and misunderstood by virtually everyone around him. His entire life, Daniel held firm to one thing: his faith.

It did not surprise me this morning when I read that upon reading Darius’ decree, Daniel simply went about doing what he had always done. Daniel had seen rulers come and rulers go. He’d continually witnessed and experienced their silly, ego-driven edicts. Through all of the massive political transitions he had survived, Daniel understood that he served and was answerable to a higher authority who did not lose His throne to the next despot.

The threat of the lions den may have been very real, but by the time his political enemies sprung their trap, I find that Daniel responded with an almost fatalistic detachment. He held loosely to the things of this world. When Belshazzar offered him riches for his interpretation in yesterday’s chapter, Daniel told him to keep them. The only thing Daniel really cared about was the one thing that had gotten him through, and that was his faith. He was not going to stop praying even if it did mean being devoured by lions. I wonder if, by this time in his life, there was a part of him that would have welcomed an end to his earthly exile.

This morning I’m thinking about this earthly journey. I’m thinking about how my own personal thoughts and priorities have changed over time. There are things to which I once clung, but now hold rather loosely. There are things which I prize more than ever that have little tangible, earthly value. When I was young I thought of Daniel as a man of super-hero style courage, but I think I misunderstood him. I’m beginning to believe that the Daniel who was thrown to the lions was simply a wise old man who was tired, who wanted only to be left alone to live out his faith, and who didn’t really care anymore what anyone did to him.

When Have I…?

Tom Self at DeskHe swore an oath to the Lord,
    he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
“I will not enter my house
    or go to my bed,
I will allow no sleep to my eyes
    or slumber to my eyelids,
till I find a place for the Lord,
    a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
Psalm 132:2-5 (NIV)

When have I…

  • …put God’s priorities ahead of my own?
  • …eschewed momentary appetites for eternal purposes?
  • …sacrificed my comfort to address God’s concern?
  • …allowed spiritual hunger to rob me of sleep?
  • …swore to God, and it was a good and serious thing?
  • …been concerned about finding a space in my day, home, marriage, family, occupation, and life for God to dwell?
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The Simplicity of True Enjoyment

2013 07 04 Family at the Lake72So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 1 Timothy 6:8, 17 (NLT) [emphasis added]

I think back to all I have experienced in this life journey and consider which handful of moments have been the most meaningful, spiritually rich, life-giving experiences I have yet known. The most important element seems to be the people I was with in the experience. A few of the experiences involve art, music, or worship. To be completely honest, a few begin with just Wendy, me, and good food – and end with just Wendy, me, and no clothes (Have I mentioned that God loves sex between husbands and wives?!). Sitting back and analyzing here in the pre-dawn hour, I notice, that most of these amazing, life-giving experiences have three common threads:

  1. Good company (family/friends/loved ones)
  2. Good food (a feast, a celebration, or just a good meal)
  3. Good conversation (usually including laughter, and occasionally tears)

I was struck this morning by both the admonishment to be content with food and clothing, and the encouragement that God gives us all we need for enjoyment. How fascinating that not one of the experiences to reach the experiential pinnacle of my forty-some years of conscious memory have anything to do with gadgets, cars, homes, jobs, possessions, sports, bank accounts, IRAs, fortune, or fame. Certainly, a few of the meals and the locations of the meals were the result of the money that made them possible. It is not the food or the location, however, that ultimately made the experience so life-giving – but the people and the interaction.

I am challenged this morning by this realization. If I know that what has been truly enjoyable and life-giving is being around good people, breaking bread together, and engaging in good, life-giving conversation, then why is so much of my life discontentedly drained by chasing after those things which don’t even appear on my list?


Sacrificing Family on the Altar of “God’s Work”

For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?
1 Timothy 3:5 (NLT)

Along the journey I have been involved in many different churches of different shapes, sizes and denominations. As a young man in a struggling marriage, I had the opportunity of being in full-time pastoral ministry for five years. I quickly learned that being the leader in a church can put undo pressure on a young husband and father to put up appearances as if you have everything together. It can also provide a young husband and father with a pious, self-righteous excuse to avoid the confusing and difficult complexities of budding relationships with wife and young children.

I have observed pastors and church leaders who, like many counterparts in the business world, are workaholics. Their car is in the parking lot early each morning and late into the evening. Because Sunday is the big day of the week for a pastor, they put in a full day on Saturday to prepare for Sunday services, then put in a full day on Sunday. That doesn’t stop them from putting in a full week. This devotion to “God’s work” is often cloaked in spiritual pride and piety while hiding incredible personal struggles. It looks good to the flock to have such a diligent leader who so tirelessly and publicly slaves away to serve God and the church. I even heard a pastor once piously boast from the pulpit about leaving his wife and small children to sleep in the church sanctuary.

The message I read in Paul’s description of a church leader is very clear. Whether a full-time pastor or a volunteer leader, the number one priority is spouse, children, and household. This is one of the many life lessons I learned the hard way. Sacrificing family on the altar of doing “God’s work” means my priorities are perilously out of whack.

What Really Matters

Crazy Family LR

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.
Philippians 1:10 (NLT)

This Fourth of July holiday weekend was spent with a good number of our family members at the lake. As children grow and spread out on their own path, it becomes more and more rare for many of us to gather together. Even during high holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas our gatherings become more and more limited. We share a meal. We have an hour or two together before various members begin to scatter to their own personal schedules and priorities. Such is life.

So, Wendy and I headed to the lake last Wednesday recognizing the rare opportunity for family members to have three full days and four nights cloistered together. My parents, my sister, her husband and two of her three kids, our two daughters, our son-in-law, along with Wendy’s youngest sister enjoyed eating, playing, talking, resting, and laughing together. We celebrated Taylor’s 23rd birthday on the Fourth. We celebrated Scott and Jody’s 25th wedding anniversary. We celebrated life together.

On Saturday night the entire crew gathered around the dining room table to play a game of Quelf. It’s a little known game with no real objective other than to inspire and motivate corporate silliness. I have a great photograph of Wendy with tears of laughter streaking down her face as she attempted to quell her laughter long enough to read one of the game cards. Someone at the table remarked that what we were experiencing together that night would become family legend. Twenty years from now when we gather together for a meal with children and grandchildren out will come the stories of the Fourth of July weekend at the lake when Taylor and Clayton made masks out of paper plates, when Grandpa acted like a woman, and when Grandma introduced us to Wendy the sock puppet. Long forgotten will be the work deadlines that stressed me out so much over the past few weeks.

The further I progress in my life journey, the more capably I believe that I am able to discern and refine my understanding of what really matters. So much of that with which we concern our daily time and energy does not really matter in any significant, eternal sense. We rather become entangled and distracted. We pour time, energy and resources into those things which drain our lives without providing any worthwhile return on the investment.

Today, I am thinking about what matters, and what does not. God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference between the two and the grace to concern myself with the former as I increasingly divest myself of the latter.

Chapter-a-Day Luke 10

Painting by Bueckelaer via Flickr and Jim Forest

As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen

. Luke 10:38-39 (MSG)

My wife, Wendy, and I are blessed to spend more time together than most couples I know. We both work out of a home office, so a normal day is spent in the house together. We eat breafast together, we eat lunch together, and we eat dinner together. If I take a break from my work, I usually walk down stairs to talk to Wendy. Much of our free time is spent working together on stage or in administrating the local community theatre. We worship together and serve together on the visual tech team at church. Wendy and I have an intimate relationship that is built on the foundation of shared time, shared space, shared interest, and shared conversation.

The story of Mary and Martha, and the simple lesson of it, keeps popping in my path the past few weeks. I was reminded of it once again in worship yesterday morning. So often I approach my relationship with Jesus like Martha, in which my relationship is really about doing things around him. Yet, Mary had the more initimate relationship with Jesus because she spent time centered on conversation with him.

My relationship with Jesus and my relationship with my wife are really no different. If I want to find intimacy in the relationship, then it’s going to require a foundation of time, proximity, and focused communication.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 23

"Bring the choice first produce of the year to the house of your God." Exodus 23:19a (MSG)

It's good for me to regularly contemplate who, or what, is getting the "choice first produce" of my life.  I think about my time, my energy, my income, and my attention. How am I budgeting life? Where is it all going? It's easy for me to immediately think that God is getting my very best, but if you lay out the evidence – what does it say?

Today, I'm taking stock and asking God to help me discern those places in my life where I am not giving Him my best. Then comes the hard part – making the necessary changes.