November 10, 2006

Standing on the Promises While Stomping on the Priorities

2006 1531 page31 capnce upon a time I was entirely content when I ordered a software package and could receive it by mail within a week. Then overnight service became available and suddenly two days was a long wait. Now if it takes longer than two minutes to download my software from the Internet, I tap my desk impatiently. I’m busy. Too busy.
My wife, Becky, has always been intrigued by the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle. So, on our second anniversary, I took her to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a short distance from our home at the time. We traveled the countryside and toured a model Amish farm. As we observed the Amish way of life, we wondered at the seeming arbitrariness of their theology/lifestyle. An Amish boy can own a scooter but not a bicycle. A family can install a telephone in the barn, but not the house. They can use DC power but not AC. Initially, it all seemed hypocritical and pharisaical to me. I might still think so if Becky wasn’t the voracious reader that she is.
As we drove, she read to me how one of the Amish elders explained their rules. He honestly admitted that the lines they have drawn are indeed arbitrary. These lines, said the elder, were not always lines of morality but rather threads that hold their fabric of life together. This fabric is their families.
A scooter allows a boy to travel a little faster, but it keeps him closer to home than a bicycle would. A telephone in a barn covers emergencies and necessities, but it doesn’t interrupt family dinner or wake them up at night. Battery power rules out television, but it keeps the milk cold. In a word, the arbitrary lines of the Amish safeguard their time: for God and for their families.
2006 1531 page31I am afraid that I am, especially as a pastor, only vaguely aware of my own shortcomings in drawing lines to protect these two most important priorities in life. Oswald Chambers in his sermons compiled in the book My Utmost for His Highest says, “The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him.”
How often I’ve proved that statement true. Many of us have.
How often have you skipped morning devotions because you stayed up too late the night before? How often can blame for that late night be placed on work or television as opposed to talking to your husband or wife, playing with your kids, or in prayer?
Why do we allow our priorities to get out of line? For many humans the devil is ambition—the ruthless quest for money and power. However, for religious people, Christians included, ambition can take on a more frightening form: a supposed devotion to God. Evil doesn’t care why I fail to uphold important priorities as long as I fail.
A colleague once gave me a pointed one-sentence sermon in the form of a question. He asked, “Are you busier than Jesus was?” Ouch again.
A certain fisherman in Mexico was exceptionally talented. But he had the strange habit of quitting his work each day long before everyone else. One day a businessman approached and asked why he stopped fishing so early in the day.
“Because I’m finished,” replied the man.
“What do you do with your spare time?” the man asked.
“I take long siestas, play with my kids, walk on the beach with my wife, things like that,” said the fisherman.
“I’m here to change your life,” announced the businessman. “I have a degree from Harvard. With your fishing talents I can help you build a booming business. All you have to do is work longer hours. Then you’ll have more fish to sell and you’ll be able to buy a bigger boat, then two boats, then a whole fleet. Soon you’ll run the entire fishing industry in your county. After that you can move to L.A. and build your business even bigger.”
“What then?” asked the fisherman.
“Then,” said the man proudly, “you can retire in style, move to a warm climate, take long siestas, and walk on the beach with your wife, things like that.”
Jeff Scoggins pastors in the Minnesota Conference.