the fine art of procrastipreparation

It occurred to me a few days ago that it's almost Lent.  How did that happen?!   Where have the past two months gone?!   Wasn't it just Christmas?  My tree is still up...

One of the things I'm trying to focus on as I slowly shift into a new way of viewing the Sabbath and adjusting my life to make it a more central practice is preparation.  This can be... challenging.  Procrastination is something at which I am relatively talented, and it extends to everything from doing my dishes and shredding my junk mail to writing sermons and catching up on correspondence.  Being prepared  - ahead of time?! -  takes a little forethought.

Grocery shopping has generally become something relegated to Saturdays.  I confess that since last Lent's discipline of using up the food in my cupboards before buying more, I have become very lax in my attitude and practice towards groceries.  I have slipped back into "go to the store and get dinner" mode, instead of planning ahead to what I will eat later this week and shopping for it ahead of time.  Cravings often dictate my shopping, rather than discipline.  I am not okay with this.  I have been - but I'm not.  Especially in light of Lent, and in light of longing to experience true Sabbath rest and joy more fully.

Since my Sabbath is on Saturday, I need to find a way to do my shopping on another day.  My goal is to have my first Sabbath meal (Friday night) ready and waiting at the end of the day - no preparation required, just coming home and sinking into Sabbath the way you sink into slumber at the end of a good (but long) journey - with joy, relief, celebration, anticipation, and contentment.  This past weekend, it just barely happened.  I gave up my plans to make a big long trip to the grocery store at which I really ought to be shopping, and spent a lot more money at a closer store buying mostly just what I needed.  Dinner went in the crock pot at 11:00am - it was ready by 7:30pm.    An hour late, but hey, it's a start, right?  ;-)  And it was amazing.  But shopping on Friday morning felt like the fine art of procrastipreparation.  I knew all week I need to shop.  I could have dragged myself off the couch and to the store in the middle of the week, but I didn't.  I was tired, and I was lazy.

This week, I will not procrastinate in my preparations.  I'm actually putting it on the calendar.   Tuesday, 7pm:  Go grocery shopping.  With a list.

Why start with food, on this journey towards keeping the Sabbath better?  Well, Sabbath is a celebration - a celebration of the goodness of creation, the creativity of our amazing God, and the beauty of redemption. All good celebrations should involve some sort of a feast - and on the Sabbath, traditionally celebrated by God's people as the "queen" of all days - we should be eating the best meals of the week.  Healthful, extravagant, shared.

I'm working on building a balanced schedule of sharing that first Sabbath meal with friends versus simply sharing it with Jesus.  And with Lent coming up, it's time (again) to give up all those foods that don't help me at all and to move into a more healthful style of living anyway.  So here's to giving up the fine art of procrastipreparation in favor of planning for the Sabbath, and a more healthy lifestyle in general.

when one falls down: dealing with sin together

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone? 
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." 
(Ecclesiates 4:9-12)

You hear these verses a lot at weddings, and rightly so, but its applications are so much more universal.  This principle is true in marriage, yes, but also in our friendships and in the Church.  We (all of us: you and me, Torch as a whole, and every church in our county, state, country, the world) are one body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)  Each one of us, individually, is a part of something greater - we were meant for community, and a community we are - so, if one part of our community suffers, we all suffer (1 Corinthians 12:26).  Just as having a broken arm affects the rest of our body via our central nervous system, the whole Church suffers when anyone within her suffers.  We're not always aware of it  - our toes don't generally seem to notice if we have a migraine - but the truth is, while our toes may not be aware that they're not being called on to bear our weight as much because of the migraine keeping us flat on our back, it is affecting them.  And so it is with the Church.

I was really blessed this week, reading the post Pastor Carter wrote and emailed to our church, detailing his personal struggles with lust, and recommending some practical steps to take for those of us who deal with it as well.  I appreciated his transparency, and I know that God is using his story to help others.  But as I read, I found myself in the same camp as his wife:  I don't quite get it.

Pornography isn't a hard-core issue for me, so there are other things that simply aren't an issue either: I can view some forms of art and see beauty, where others would simply find a stumbling block.  I can wear certain clothes and feel completely decent, while others dream of the early 1800s and all those high-necked and long-skirted dresses women used to wear.  There are doorways to sin for men that are NOT a doorway to sin for me.  

So what do I do?

How can I best be a part of this community that is the Bride of Christ, exercising my freedom in Christ to be who I am - while respecting that fact that there are people - in this body - who wrestle with things that I don't find to be a problem?

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul discusses an issue that may seem a bit foreign to us.  In his day, there were all kinds of temples that honored many different gods and idols, and people were free to worship wherever they wished.  Worship, in those days, included the sacrifice of various animals - but after the sacrifice was made, the actual (essentially barbequed) meat sometimes ended up on the tables of the various priests of each god/idol, but also sometimes ended up being sold at the market (since there was only so much each priest's family could eat).  For a Christian in this environment, it could pose a bit of a problem.  It was forbidden for the Jews to eat meat sacrificed to idols - and most early Christians still followed Jewish laws... but did it count if you bought a steak at the market and didn't know it was previously sacrificed to somebody else's God?  And what if it was?  You knew the truth: The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it! (Psalm 24:1)  Thank God for the steak, and eat it, for heaven's sake!  But at the same time... this steak was offered to a demon, not to God.  So wasn't it tainted, somehow?...

Paul very wisely said this: "'I have the right to do anything,' you say - but not everything is beneficial.  'I have the right to do anything' - but not everything is constructive.  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others." (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).  The steak is fine - you're free to eat it - but if it makes your brother stumble, for the sake of his conscience - opt to be a vegetarian today!  It's not going to hurt you, and it will only help your brother if you don't.

So how do I help my brothers (and sisters) when they wrestle with something I don't? I choose not to exercise the freedom I have in Christ - for their benefit.  I choose to care more about them than I do about myself.  I make choices that will help them.  I choose to enter into their suffering, as if it were mine.

And if I don't get it?  If I have no idea what makes them stumble or what helps them stand?

I ask questions.  Not because I need to, or because it's required - but because I care.  I care too much for my brother to send him a link to an awesome Katy Perry song because the album cover artwork might be an issue for him.  I care too much for my sister to loan her this really great book I just read because there's that one scene in the middle that might cause her to stumble.  I care too much to just let this all slip by as if it didn't matter.  Is pornography an issue for me?  Nope.  But it is for my sister in Christ.  It is for my brother in Christ.  So it will become one for me, so that when my brother or sister falls down, I will know (at least a little) how to help them up - and how to help them not fall down again.

And so it should be - not just with this sin, but with every sin.  Because sin causes us to suffer, and when one of us suffers, we all do, whether we know it or not.  Thanks be to our God-with-us, who understands this intimately.  For "because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (Hebrews 2:18)

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (Hebrews 4:14-16)

And let us approach that throne of grace together - holding each other up when we cannot stand alone.


an adjective-defying experience

i realize there's a bit of irony in using the compound adjective "adjective-defying" to describe my experience this weekend...  but i'm not sure there really is just one word that would work.   "awesome" doesn't quite touch it - tho it's close.

i went "home" this weekend.  home to a place where i now know very few people, home to a place that still brings me so much comfort and safety just by being in it.  i cheered (literally, out loud) when i crossed the Michigan border, and i kid you not, at one point about an hour later, i suddenly realized that i'd been grinning like an idiot for awhile... :)

i spent two glorious days in a luxury, eco-friendly hotel.

i ate - and ate - and ate! - amazing food: scrambled eggs, bacon, roasted potatoes, rye toast, flatbread pizza LOADED with feta and kalamata olives, chicken corn chowder, minestrone, fish and chips.

i had red wine and orange juice and hot buttered rum (my favorite espresso drink at the best coffee shop in the world).  i had an amazing cup of french-press coffee.

i spent time with two dear friends i haven't seen in years.

i worshiped with them and with some other friends at a church that has grown astronomically since the last time i was there.

i listened to beautiful music - classical, pop, worship, Irish (in the Irish pub where i had the fish and chips), and folk.

and i read.  an entire book.  cover to cover.  and it changed my life.  is changing.  will change.

there are no words that could ever completely describe these two days spent doing all these amazing, blessed and life-altering things with the Lord - but here are a few that just begin to get at it:

beautiful.  wonderful.  tough.  amazing.  unexpected.  lovely.  abundant.  peaceful.  right.  true.  dangerous.  blessed.  intimate.  challenging.  restful.  pure.  long.  short.  (far too short.)  lonely.  communal.  lush.  restorative.  informative.  formative.  social.  sweet.  transformative.  

i'm sure there are others that describe it as well.

i hope to be able to unpack some of it over the next few weeks.  stay tuned.

and in the meantime: go buy yourself a copy of Dan Allender's Sabbath...  i won't tell you that it will change your life.  but it did change mine.  and it's a good book.