On the Plains of Moab Blog
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October 5, 2014, 7:37 AM

Shannon's Story

I thought it might be helpful if I followed up on the sermon from Sunday.  The sermon was recorded, but it wasn’t properly segmented, so I was unable to put the sermon audio online.  However, I have included the manuscript version of the sermon at the end of this entry.

I understand some primarily heard criticism of Martha’s hard work ethic in the sermon.  As if it was a not-so-veiled swipe at many good members of our church who go above and beyond the call to serve our Lord here.  That was not at all the spirit or the aim of the sermon.  Period.  Jesus is not taking Martha to task for being a hard worker, nor for her attentiveness in attending to their needs at the moment.  The teaching point for Jesus (and the sermon) is that we – a collective we, one and all – too often allow the busyness of our schedules and routines to sidetrack us from the good portion -- our relationship with the Lord.  We surely do!  It is busyness: work, recreation, schedules, etc. etc. – the tyranny of the urgent.  The sermon was standard fare that you will find lining the shelves of Christian bookstores everywhere.  True, nonetheless.

As Shannon and I talked about the sermon, we talked again about an experience we both remember with great dread.  Our horse story.  For Shannon, it was a very personal spiritual battle with busyness.  I shared in the sermon, light-heartedly, about her over-the-top energy in doing all things at a hundred miles an hour, and yet feeling as if she was spinning her wheels.  I wish I had shared her experience on a more serious level.  She decided to write about her horse story:  When God used a horse to teach her about busyness and the good portion.  With her permission, I share it with you.

Shannon’s Story by Shannon Smith

July 26, 2014 – a day that called for a moment of reflection.  The memory of that day, one year ago, is still vivid in my mind.  That was the day that I broke my ankle.  My memories go back to that July morning when I sat in my flower garden and prayed.  I was so busy; my “to-do” list was a mile long, and I had endless projects around the yard and the house that needed to be finished up.  I knew I wasn’t making time for God; God had been pushed into a little corner of my life, and I gave Him my time when it was convenient.  Oh, I prayed, and I thought about Him a lot, but it was so difficult to make time to just sit and reflect and listen to His still, small voice.  So that morning, I prayed:  “Dear Jesus, help me to make time for you.”  Then I got up and went about my business.  I thought that God would help me to be more disciplined, that He would help me to carve out a little more time for Him.  Maybe He would help me to get up earlier each morning so I would have time to read my Bible.  As it turned out, He knew far better than I how to accomplish His goals.  Ten hours later, I found myself lying on a hospital gurney, staring at the ceiling of the operating room – waiting for the doctors to repair a badly broken ankle.

Then, much to my chagrin, I found that I had plenty of time for Jesus.  For three months, I did nothing but sit.  How humiliating!  I could hardly imagine a worse fate!  For three months, I was unable to accomplish anything on my “to-do” list.  And guess what?  Life went on. My world did not cave in because the items on my list were not checked off.   For three months, I earned not a penny.  To my amazement, we were still able to (barely) pay our bills.  Although those three months were punctuated by pain, frustration, and tears, I also had time to just sit and listen for God’s voice.  I had time to write letters, read books, write in my journal, and play board games with my kids.  I even took a whole day and stayed in my pajamas and watched movies with Matthew.  After the pain subsided a little, I was able to sit on my back porch and enjoy my flower garden with its butterflies and hummingbirds, and just sit quietly before Jesus.

Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet” because she chose to do so.  For three months, I “sat at Jesus’ feet” - not because I chose to do so, but because I was forced to do so.  At first I chafed at this, but eventually I came to understand:  If He must break my body in order to heal my soul, then so be it.  This body will die, but my soul will last forever.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still thrive on chaos.  My favorite saying is, “We can always fit in one more thing!”  I still want to be on the move all the time, I still fidget when I have to sit quietly, and I often forget how freeing it was to just sit at His feet, with nothing on the agenda.  But I try to remind myself often of the lessons I learned last summer.  God is all-powerful.  He doesn’t need me to accomplish His goals for Him.  He can do it without me.  Instead, I see it as my privilege to participate in His wonderful, awesome plan – that great story that began with Adam and Eve and ends in a new heaven and a new earth, where gladness and joy will overtake us, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.  I feel really lucky that I have a part to play in that amazing story – but I know that first, He wants my adoration, my attentiveness, my allegiance.  Before I throw myself wholeheartedly into all the things that He has called me to do, I must still my heart and sit at His feet, as Mary did long ago.  Today my ankle is strong and healthy once again, but a faint pain always remains:  an echo of a lesson learned the hard way.  As long as the pain persists in my ankle, it will serve as a tangible reminder of that lesson, like the proverbial “string around the finger.”   In Exodus 14:14 God says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  Of all the things that He calls me to do, this is perhaps the most important and the most difficult.

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength,
But you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
He rises to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!
Is. 30:15-18

September 28, 2014
Pulling a Martha:  Chronic Busyness

Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." 41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

There never seems to be enough time to do everything that we need to do in a given day -- So much to do and so little time to do it.  Jobs are all-consuming.  Work on, around and within the home never seems unending.

Family responsibilities demand quality and quantity time.  There’s always somewhere to be; someone to pick up; some errand to run.  Sometimes it feels like we spend all of our time on the run, ruled by the tyranny of the urgent.  You plop down in bed at night and wonder where the time went.

Our kids are slammed with more than enough things to do – perhaps they are even busier than us.  The school day and the attendant homework.  Extra-curricular activities -- sports, band and academic clubs.  Colleges now demand that prospective students have multiple life experiences to show on the application so that life stays busy and hectic.

And I haven’t even mentioned it yet, but it is no less all-consuming:  We take our leisure and vacations quite seriously as well.  It seems that we are ever either planning or taking trips.

When we lived in Orlando, I was always amazed at how determined the Walt Disney Company was in their drive to consume every last minute – and dollar – from the wallet of the average tourist.  Their open, professed goal was to satiate every tourist itinerary with all things Disney.  Walt Disney World (aptly named), doesn’t want any of their valued guests to have the slightest need to leave Disney property, for anything!

They figure if they can distract you with more and more things to do; places to see; restaurants to try out; and all the nightlife that you can handle; they can then fill up every last minute of your Florida vacation!  Distraction and busyness!  That’s the key.

Speaking of distraction and busyness, who can’t identify with Martha here in our passage today from Luke 10?  Jesus comes into town to Martha’s home with his band of twelve hungry and tired disciples; a tall order for hosting.  To make matters even more stressful, her little sister Mary plops down at the feet of Jesus to listen to his teaching while poor Martha slaves away in the kitchen going crazy trying to provide for all of their guests!

Martha’s response?  Jesus, “do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her…to help me.”  “How could my sister be so thoughtless and lazy?”

From the Gospel of John, we know this is the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus in Bethany, which is a couple of miles to the east of Jerusalem.  Lazarus and the village name, Bethany aren’t mentioned in this story by Luke.  Most likely, Luke wants to draw sole attention to these two sisters and their respective responses to Jesus.

Martha seems to be a classic Type-A person:  Anxious; terseness; intense focus; plenty of drive and given to frenetic activity.  Kind of reminds me of my dad.  When I used to eat dinner at his house, he would wait and watch for me to finish my meal; then he would grab my empty plate and wash it immediately.

My favorite joke about my dad is that when you get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, when you come back to your room, you find that he’s made up your bed!

My dear wife is like that as well.  Her nickname is “Martha” in our house.  She never quits.  She comes in tired from work; cooks; starts a load of laundry; does activities with the kids; starts cleaning projects; baking projects; and all along, always concerned that she doesn’t have enough time to get everything done.  I find myself saying, “Martha, come in here and sit down and relax.  You can conquer the world tomorrow!”

Back to the text:  Two sisters and two polar opposite responses to a visit from Jesus:  Mary “sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.”  Sounds like the idle, couch-potato activity of plopping down in an easy chair in front of the television and veg’ing out, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, “Martha was distracted with much serving.”  The Greek word here translated “distracted” literally means “to be drawn or pulled in every direction.”  Martha was unsettled; she was agitated.

But the response of Jesus is somewhat surprising, at least at first glance.  He chastens Martha, not Mary!  I mean what about the virtue of the well-worn “Protestant work ethic” and all?  What about Paul’s admonition in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat”?

Not surprisingly, Jesus is tender, but firm:  “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”

Martha, in rushing around busily and frantically; determined to be a good host; determined not to be lazy.; determined to get things done – misses the point.  In all of these good and noble intentions, she had neglected the one necessary thing.

The 17th century devotional Bible commentator extraordinaire, Matthew Henry, described Martha’s problem in this memorable way:  “Worldly business [that is to say, the lack of restraint and judgment in ‘worldly cares and pursuits’ often becomes] a snare to us when it hinders us from serving God and getting good to our souls.”  Nothing wrong, you understand, with anything that Martha was doing, per se.  Hard work is not wrong or bad.  It was in what she was allowing herself to neglect!  Her driven-ness was driving her far from where she needed to be.

Mary, on the other hand, had “chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  What exactly is this good portion that Jesus speaks of?  Let’s try to flesh that out.

It turns out that Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to him teach wasn’t a sign of laziness.  “Sitting at the feet” is a description of a serious, studying disciple.  Mary has chosen “the good portion” of attending to the task of discipleship and spiritual development.

Her faith takes precedence over the mundane.  There are always other times for eating and sleeping and other activities.  After all, how often is the Lord Jesus in your presence; in your living room teaching, sharing and answering questions? [!]

Martha is so distracted with the busy-ness of her specific world, her current distraction, that she is neglecting the one thing needful in her life!  How much we are all like Martha!  How much our activities and pursuits beside the Faith consume, control and dictate our best and most precious time!  When it comes to the one thing needful in our lives, we balk and succumb to the cultural current.

That one needful thing is actually, I believe, many things that can be summed up as one:  Personal faith; studied discipleship; growth in grace and the knowledge of the Lord; spiritual maturity and intensity in worship.

And so, if we are all Martha’s; what then can we do about it?  Obviously, we are all individuals.  We are all in different places in our spiritual maturity.  We all have varying degrees of responsibilities in life.  Some of us are more busy than others.  But, be this as it may, I still want to suggest a concluding thought for your rumination.

Jesus says, “Martha, Martha you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”  Substitute your own name for Martha’s!  What are, for you, the “many things” that take priority over the one, needful thing?

Jesus has many things to say about the “many things”:  Things like “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matt. 6:19).  “…Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness….” (Matt. 6:33).  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35).

Many more like reminders could be culled from the Scriptures, but perhaps Paul says it in terms that we can readily grasp in today’s politically charged climate:  “…Our citizenship is in heaven….” (Phil. 3:20).  Further, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…. (Phil. 3:8-9 ESV).

How about Paul’s words about present suffering and mundane-ness:  I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom. 8:18 ESV)

“…The good portion…will not be taken away….”  Jobs come and go; you will be “retired” far longer than you will ever work!  Kids and grandkids grow up and move on.  Activities and interests pass with time.  But, the one needful thing remains.  It is “the good portion which will not be taken away,” ever!

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it well.   Amen.

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