Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Bad News About Burnout, Part One

’Tis the season to be jolly, right?  Well, that’s what the song says, but that’s certainly not what I see.  I see people who are stressed out of their minds.  I see people who are angry, bitter, tired and whiny.    In short, I see people who are teetering on the edge of burnout.

Burnout is not exclusive to the Christmas season.  It can happen anytime during the year and can be the result of family, work, church, health issues and more.  It is not limited to any country, class, or gender.  You’re as likely to find it in your place of worship as you are at the White House.  Burnout occurs when we burn our candles at both ends, trying to accomplish too many tasks and meet impossible deadlines.  And while it isn’t exclusive to Christmas, it does seem to multiply at that time.  Take people who are already stretched too thin and pile on a list of to-do’s that includes buying gifts, sending cards, caroling, numerous parties, church cantatas, baking, etc.  In a big hurry, the most wonderful time of the year becomes a nightmare.

Moses understood—not about Christmas burnout, mind you, but about burnout in general.  Look at this passage from Exodus 18:13-17.  And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening. And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws. And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.

Not good?  How could Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) say such a thing?  Moses was ending disputes.  He was teaching the people how to get along.  He was taking time for each need and pouring his heart out to the people.  Sounds like a noble cause to me.  Yes, it definitely sounds like a good thing.  Moses thought so too, but what he didn’t see was that he was dangerously close to running himself into the ground.

Over the next few posts, I want to discuss the bad news about burnout and how it can affect not only us but those around us.  For now, I want to remind you that even “good things” can send us over the edge.  There are probably millions of good things we could do with our time, talents and energies, but we simply cannot do them all.  We weren’t created that way, and God never intended for each of us to do everything.  For that reason, it is imperative that we practice saying this little word, “no.”  When our schedules are already full and our plates are overflowing, it is wrong for us to take on more.  We must learn to say “no” even to the good things.  

I’ll go into more detail about this over the course of the next few posts, but let me end with this—even God didn’t make the world in a single day.  He could have. It would have been no trouble for Him to speak everything into existence at once, but He spread the process out over seven days.  If God didn’t try to get it all done in a single day, why do we think we should?  Pace yourself, and stop taking on more than you can handle.  After all, it may be hurting you far more than you realize.

Monday, December 5, 2016

What You See Isn't Necessarily What You Get

A few weeks ago, I came across a quote by Henry David Thoreau that states, “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”  That statement has stuck with me over the past weeks, and yesterday, the Lord even brought it to life right before my eyes.

I was returning from my prayer walk when I noticed a bird sitting in the shadows in the middle of the road ahead of me—at least, I thought it was a bird.  I could clearly see its head, beak, body and extended tail.  Oddly enough, it was just sitting there.  It didn’t fly away.  It didn’t bend over to scoop up some tasty bug off the ground.  It didn’t even hop around to see what was available.  It just sat there perfectly still until a gust of wind knocked it over, beak-first, onto the ground.  Only then did I realize that the “bird” was actually a leaf.  Perhaps it’s time for an eye appointment, huh?

That being said, I’m sure you’ve done the same thing—saw something that you thought was one thing only to find out it was another.  Come on, admit it.  Don’t make me feel alone in this thing.  I already feel crazy enough for seeing a bird where there wasn’t one.  Maybe it’s stress or lack of sleep.  All I know is that as soon as I realized my mistake, God brought Thoreau’s quote back to my mind.  I was looking at a leaf, but I saw a bird.

How many times in life do we make the same mistake in spiritual matters?  We look at a problem, but we see a mountain.  We look at a diagnosis, but we see a death sentence.  We look at the pink slip, but we see financial ruin.  Unfortunately, we even do it with God.  We look at Him, and we see a God who used to do great things.  It’s not what we look at that’s causing our spiritual struggles in life; it’s what we see.  We see what we think is inevitable.  We see the worst outcome.  We see what we fear.  But are we seeing the truth, or are we, like I did yesterday, seeing something that isn't there?

I propose we start living life by another statement:  “It’s not what you see that matters; it’s what God sees.”  The God who parted the Red Sea, healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons.  The God who is above all and more powerful than we could possibly imagine.  What does He see?  I would suggest that when He looks at your problem, He sees the walls of Jericho, ready to tumble.  When He sees the diagnosis, He sees the chance to prove His grace whether in healing here on earth or in Heaven.  When He sees the pink slip, He sees the opportunity to move you to another place where you can better serve Him and probably be much happier in the process.  Where we see boulders, God sees pebbles.  Where we see oceans, He sees a water fountain.  I dare say if we saw what He did, we wouldn’t be afraid.

The trouble is we can’t see what He sees.  We don’t have the same vantage point.  But I’ll tell you what we can do—we can trust.  If He says He’s got it under control, let’s take Him at His word.  If He says He’ll supply our every need, then let’s agree that He means it.  We may be blinded to the reality of our situation, but God is not.  He is fully aware of what is taking place, not only now, but down the road as well.  He can see around the bend, so let’s stop living our lives based on what we see and instead trust in what God sees.  That should keep us from making mountains out of molehills. . . or birds out of leaves!

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? - Romans 8:31

Friday, December 2, 2016

Do You Smell That?

We finally got our tree, and it’s a beauty!  The best part of all is that, for the first time in several years, we were able to find a Carolina Sapphire.  Now, if you’ve never seen one, you’re missing out.  They’re gorgeous with a silvery-blue tint and tiny little buds that look like decorations.  Words just can’t describe to you how lovely these trees are nor can they convey how heavenly they smell.  Around my house, we sing, “It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas” because the Sapphire carries with it the pleasing aroma of nature.  Seriously, the smell puts the nicest cedar to shame.  We love it!

On the day I was decorating the tree, I kept taking deep breaths, sucking in that magnificent scent, but in the midst of it all, a thought struck me.  Suddenly, I was reminded of another fragrant tree, though this tree did not carry an aroma of its own.  No, the smell wafting from it was due to the figure hanging upon it.  Yes, the scent was coming from Jesus, and despite the wretchedness of His appearance and the despair of His body, the smell was not at all unpleasant.  It was the spicy scent of spikenard that clung to His body after Mary anointed Him with the oil at their last meeting.  Though some time had passed, the aroma lingered as did the memories of Mary’s precious gift.

I can imagine Jesus struggling to take a breath, fighting the pain as the nails tore through His hands and feet.  But as He pushes His body upward, just enough to gasp for a breath of air, He smells the spikenard and smiles.  Somebody believed Him.  Someone loved Him.  Someone thought enough of Him to lavish Him with an expensive spice that cost an entire year’s wages.  Someone cared.  What a comfort that must have been to Him when even His Father turned away in disgust at the horrible sin that was laid upon our Savior.

I realize that the Christmas season is about the birth of Christ, not His death, but if you think about it, the season is really about both. After all, Christ was born to die.  His purpose for coming to this world and taking human form was so that He could pay the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.  That being the case, at Christmas, I like to celebrate the fact that Jesus was born, but I also love to reflect upon the reason that He was born.  He came for me.  He came for you.  He came that all mankind might know Him and dwell with Him for all eternity if they only accept Him.  He is the way, the truth and the life.

So, I guess you could say that on Christmas day, God made a way in a manger.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. - John 3:16

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Where's the Fire?

If you’ve been following the news at all, you’re aware of the fires ravaging the Southeast. Carelessness, vandalism and severe drought have created a state of emergency in at least four states. Firefighters are working day and night to keep the raging fires under control, but thus far, they’ve been unable to keep it from spreading. The fires are literally jumping from place to place, making it nearly impossible to determine where they will strike next. Living in one of the affected areas, I have witnessed the destruction and ferocity of these endless flames. It’s terrifying and fascinating all at the same time.

 I watched the news report as they attempted to explain how the fires could leap from one place to another, and I found myself wondering if spiritual fires behave in the same way, and if so, why aren’t we seeing an outbreak of revival? As I look around at the churches and so-called Christians of today, I think I have my answer. It seems to me that the fires are not jumping and spreading because there are so few to begin with. Yes, as sad as this statement is, there are few who seem to really be on fire for God anymore.

I’m not saying that there aren’t Christians in the world because I know there are. And I am not saying that there aren’t any who would give their lives for Christ because we’ve witnessed it.   But in a world of over 7 million people – 2 million of which claim to be Christians – there is little evidence of spiritual wildfires. Too many, it seems, are content to do their thing, attend the occasional church service and do God a favor by reading His word every once in a while. Then there are those who serve faithfully in His house week after week, but knowing my own tendency to grow weary in well doing, I have to wonder how many are serving because of the fire in their hearts as opposed to the obligations on their to-do list.

May I remind you that time is short? The signs of the times are all around us, and I believe that Jesus is coming back very soon. When He does, what will he find? Will He see His bride on fire for him, or will He return to a world of ho-hum Christians going about their days and barely giving Him a moment’s thought? The question is a sobering one, and the answer is up to us. I firmly believe that if we, as Christians, were to get our hearts on fire for the Lord as they should be, it wouldn’t be long before the fire spread to others. The fire doesn’t have to end with us, but it must begin with us.  As John Wesley put it, “Get on fire for God, and men will come and see you burn.”

Are you on fire for God today?

 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. - Revelation 3:15-16

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Don't Postpone Life

I don’t even know why I bother to make plans. It seems I’m never able to follow through with them. Take, for example, our Thanksgiving weekend. The plan was to have Thanksgiving lunch with Jason’s parents on Thursday and then an afternoon hike with our dog, Mitch. But somehow time got away from us in the morning, and we arrived an hour later than planned, which left us with an inadequate amount of time to take the dog for a hike. (Let me tell you, Mitch was not happy about it.)

On Friday, Jason had a few morning jobs, but then we were going to get our Christmas tree. For the past several years, we’ve waited so long to get our tree that, when we finally did, the pickings were pretty slim.  We intended not to make the same mistake this year; however, because Mitch didn’t get out on Thursday, we found it necessary to take him out on Friday instead of getting the tree.  No problem, we thought, we’ll just get the tree Saturday morning before we go over to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday evening, after plans for a hike had already been made, Jason received a notification that he had to work Saturday morning. So, Saturday morning after he worked, we got ready and went over to my parents for Thanksgiving. We didn’t leave there until nearly 7 o’clock, so obviously, there was no getting a tree at that point. So, we devised a plan to get one on Sunday afternoon in between church services. 

Unfortunately, Jason awoke with a terrible head cold on Sunday morning, and while we did make it to both church services, he did not feel up to going out in the afternoon to look for a Christmas tree. And so, the area that I set up for our tree several days ago remains empty, and I’ve decided not to try to make any more arrangements for a day when we can get our tree. At this point, I guess we’ll get it when we get it.

Life has a way of setting us on a permanent cycle of postponement. We have plans and dreams, but it seems that they are always one day away. Many times, these situations are out of our control, and all we can do is trust God and His perfect timing. However, there are times when we unconsciously choose to postpone living our lives in exchange for staying in our comfort zones. We see the possibilities ahead of us, and while they are desirable, they're also a bit scary, so we hold back. And alas, our tomorrows never come.

Every day is a gift from God, and I pray that we will treat each day as such—that we will live each day to its fullest. May we not put off till tomorrow the things that we should accomplish today. May we not postpone our dreams for a brighter existence. May we do our best to live in the moment and to glean every ounce of joy we can get out of the time we are given. Take nothing for granted. Don’t postpone life!

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24