Time for more than work

A pastor found a response card at his church had been filled out by his son, who marked down that he would like a visit from the pastor. Dad thought his young son was just having some fun, but he soon figured out his son was serious. He thought asking for a visit from the pastor might be the only way he could get to spend time with his dad. With his words dad said his son mattered more to him than work, but his actions gave a different message.

Recently a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip was posted online. In it Calvin’s dad took a break from work to play with his son. He finished up his work later, after Calvin went to bed. The message of the strip was to take time to play with your kids. Some responded to it expressing concern that their kids would like them to play all day, but they have work to do. It is true, there is work that has to be done, and maybe some people spend more time than they should playing with their kids. More common in my experience is my pastor-friend who got the response card from his son asking for a visit. Many of us from our earliest days have been taught the importance of hard work. It is easy, however, for things to get out of balance and that strong work ethic can so dominate our lives that it becomes an idol that causes trouble in our relationships.

It is good to work hard when it is done out of love for Jesus and a desire to serve Him and others. It is sad when the hard work is done because a person is trying to earn God’s favor. It is sad when hard work happens out of a fear of what others may think or a longing to gain the approval of people. Some, sadly, are knocking themselves out to get more money and stuff that isn’t going to last. God’s grace enables us to work as ones who are not slaves to work but ones who have been set free to serve.

It is not just parents with kids at home who ought to wrestle with the issue of how much time to spend at work and how much time with family and friends. We all have people God has brought into our lives. It is easy to neglect those relationships and get so busy with work that there is no time for coffee with a friend or calling a relative or playing a game with a kid. Do your friends and family envy the people you work with and your business associates because they figure those people get the best of your energy and attention?

The early Christians were busy with all kinds of responsibilities, but they knew the importance of taking time for one another. They knew taking time to keep their relationships strong was crucial to their very survival. “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46).

In the Gospels we never see Jesus too busy for people. He took time to have dinner with Matthew and his tax collector friends. He took time to talk with the Samaritan women by a well. He took time to go to Zacchaeus’ home. He took time for people then and He has time for you today. Sometimes we’re the one who is too busy for others, but other times we’re like the son who filled out the card, wishing somebody had time for us. God has time to turn His ear to you and listen when you pray. He has time to speak through His Word and encourage you. Jesus took time to come to this earth to save us. He is graciously willing each day to take time to care for us.

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Some things matter a lot more than taxes

I had to pay taxes the other day. Like most people, it is not something I enjoy doing. I put off the pain as long as I can.

On the same day I paid taxes I visited a couple from our church who are in their 90s. It’s looking like his time on this earth may be soon coming to an end. He and his wife have been married almost 70 years. Spending time with them gave good perspective on tax day.

After paying taxes I have different numbers in my bank account than I did before, but how much of a difference does that really make? The man I had the privilege of being with is very likely going to be with Jesus soon. At that moment the numbers in his bank account aren’t going to matter to him. They don’t matter to him much right now. As we met together what mattered were the promises of God. A thousand more dollars weren’t going to help him much, but the good news of Jesus helped. What was valuable to him was being reminded again that Jesus loves him and gave His life on the cross for him. What made a difference was knowing his sins are forgiven because of Jesus, death has been defeated by the risen Lord and a home with God for all eternity is promised.

If a little change in the bank account’s numbers doesn’t matter much at the end of life, why do we act like it matters so much now? Too often we’re pursuing the trivial and neglecting the treasure. In a lot of ways the trivial is money and things. The treasure is people and relationships and knowing the love of God and loving others.

Jesus told a parable about a rich man who kept building bigger barns to store all his goods, but neglected his soul. The night came suddenly when his life came to an end. What good did it do him to have all those barns? “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

After paying taxes I’m a little less rich in the trivial things of bank account size, but after my visit the other day and seeing evidence of someone’s faith in the Lord, even in the face of death, I’m richer toward God. That is true treasure.

Focus on the good news

When Pastor Eduardo was a young man in Cuba everyone had to have a government-issued identification card. A person was required to state on the card whether they were religious or not, and if they were religious what religion they practiced. Eduardo put on the card that he was a Christian. That wasn’t a helpful thing to have on your card in communist-led Cuba.

When a person applied for a job they had to show their government ID. Eduardo applied for jobs and showed his ID that stated he was a Christian. He got turned down for job after job. They didn’t come out and say it was because he was a Christian, but he knew. Finally a farmer gave him a job working in his fields. What Eduardo earned at that job helped him support himself, put himself through school, and eventually he became a pastor. Whenever Eduardo is in the area where that farmer lives he makes a point of visiting him and thanking him for having the courage to hire a Christian.

Christians in Cuba still face some restrictions and government regulations, but when I visited there in 2017 there was freedom to openly talk about your faith in the public square. Worship services were held and no one seemed to be fearful of government disruption. Eduardo spoke about how some complain about government regulations. To him it seems they have forgotten or don’t know how it used to be. The restrictions of the present are a small challenge compared to the hardships of the past.

In Acts 5 we read about some early Christians who were arrested for telling people about Jesus. An angel came during the night and opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. They were told not to run and hide, but instead: “Go, stand in the temple courts … and tell the people the full message of this new life.” They got brought before the authorities again, threatened, flogged and ordered not to speak about Jesus anymore. They had a surprising response to the persecution: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:20, 41-42).

It doesn’t appear they spent much time complaining about their rights being violated. They didn’t whine about the dirty rotten Romans or the unjust Jewish leaders. They looked at it as an honor to suffer for Jesus. They kept their focus on proclaiming the good news of what Christ had done.

Compared to much of the rest of the world and Christians of past generations, it is kind of easy to be a Christian in the U.S. today. That can cause some problems in that it leads some to cry out that they’re being persecuted if one person makes a negative comment or gives a disapproving look. Sometimes when I hear Christians complain I feel like somebody ought to apologize to our brothers and sisters in North Korea and Afghanistan and Somalia.

Persecuted Christians around the world and from the past have much to teach us. Instead of moaning and groaning when we suffer a little bit of injustice, let’s focus on the good things God has done and is doing. He loves us and saves us. He is on the throne and will remain so forever. May the gracious, loving way God treats us matter far more to us than any mistreatment we receive from the world. May our thoughts and our words be overflowing with the good news of Jesus.