Monthly Archives: December 2013

When Normal… Isn’t.

One of the “milestones” I hit this year wasn’t a good one: My first hospital stay & surgery. The “gallbladder attack” that sent me to the emergency room was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Thankfully, gallbladder removal is a very common procedure, and there were no complications. I was sore & bloated for a few weeks, but the recovery wasn’t nearly as painful or difficult as I had imagined. Within two weeks, I was pretty much back to my regular routine.

It’s been almost 7 weeks now since the surgery. I still have tender spots where a couple of my staples (which were used instead of sutures) had gotten irritated and infected. I also still feel like I’m tiring out much more quickly than I did before the surgery… but honestly, the holidays are kinda crazy even under the best of circumstances, and this year has been especially busy. It is entirely possible that I would have been this wiped out even without the surgery! Of course, having medical bills hanging over me (and not even knowing if I’ve received all of the bills yet) is weighing on me a little bit as well, and I’m sure that’s not helping!

But in the grand scheme of things, all of that is minor. Life after surgery has been very good for me. And one of the most surprising things I’ve discovered over the last seven weeks is that what I long considered “Normal” …wasn’t. I didn’t recognize it, but for years I was having symptoms of gallbladder issues. They started slowly, gradually. When I noticed the symptoms at all, I attributed them to food poisoning, stomach bugs, or just getting older and not being able to eat certain things anymore. I assumed it was all “normal.”

Only, it wasn’t normal. I just didn’t recognize that until AFTER the surgery. Once the gallbladder was out, the symptoms were gone. I almost didn’t believe it at first – I thought it was a lingering effect of the antibiotics or pain meds. But a week later, it started to sink in. I wouldn’t have to the live with the dull, low level pain and discomfort that had become like background noise in my life. I wouldn’t have to worry about eating certain kinds of food anymore. It was amazing, but I still understood that the surgery wasn’t a magic pill. There was risk involved. It was painful. And there was a cost. But I’m loving the new normal that it has created for me.

And it has made me think about other areas in my life where I’ve settled for a “normal” that really needs to be challenged and changed… even if it require drastic measures.

The Point

I’m exhausted.

And this time of year, that’s kinda normal. Just seems like this year has been a little extra complicated, extra stressful, and extra busy… not just for me (though it has certainly been one for the history books for me!), but for nearly everyone I know. Did we really want to add to that with scheduling practices and the stress of putting together a performance? This year, with everything else going on, I don’t think anyone would have minded if our church had skipped the Christmas Drama.

But we didn’t.

The Christmas Drama this year was downsized and simplified. There were no sets or elaborate costumes like we’ve had in the past. We wrote it ourselves and incorporated parts for everyone who wanted to be involved. We met separately with smaller groups and individuals to rehearse their songs and scenes since group practices were nearly impossible to coordinate with the demands of everyone’s schedules. In fact, until our first and only start-to-finish rehearsal yesterday (just an hour or so before the actual performance!), I didn’t even realize how many kids were involved.

It was a lot!

And they all did a wonderful job! We called the drama “The Point.” It was a drama about rehearsing for a drama… which allowed everyone to have scripts in front of them. The scenes revolved around the kids reading Scripture and answering “homework” questions from the Director – questions that prompted them (and the audience) to think about the the point of the Christmas story… and take on a couple of popular misconceptions about the Christmas story. Writing our own script also gave us the opportunity to incorporate a few church-specific jokes 🙂

As always, the kids weren’t the only ones who learned something from this drama. I tend to be a “go big or go home” kind of person. The point that this experience re-enforced for me is that things don’t have to be elaborate or super intensive to be meaningful. It’s great to do the big productions – I enjoy them we do them – but it’s also nice to know that it’s OK to take a step back sometimes. After all, “The Point” of doing these dramas isn’t to compete with Broadway, but to give folks in the church (especially the kids) a chance to shine… while also giving everyone something to think about.

Legacy

In all the busy-ness of the last couple of days, I initially missed the news that Harold Camping had passed away Sunday. If that name sounds familiar, it is most likely because in 2011, he gained a lot of notoriety when he falsely predicted judgement day and the end of the world… complete with an extensive, expensive, and pretty embarrassing advertising campaign.

To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about him for years before he made the news for that. I wrote about it (and my childhood connection to Camping’s ministry) here. For better or worse, he had a significant influence on how I thought about the Bible and Christianity in general, and that influence continued long after I tuned him out. When I hear certain phrases, even today, I can’t help but recall them in Camping’s distinctive voice. The people we encounter in life, even temporarily, can leave a mark: sometimes good, sometimes bad, and most often a little of both. This is what I’ve taken away from his life:

1. “The Bible alone, and in it’s entirety, is the Word of God.”

I value the Bible as much as I do in large part because I heard this phrase repeated over and over again by Camping on his call-in show (which I listened to). Enough that it made me want to read the Bible myself… which I did, several times cover-to-cover as a young pre-teen and teenager. It also made me want to study ancient languages like Greek (and I did go on to study Greek for a short time in college) so I could read the Bible in its oldest preserved form.

Although it appears that Camping no longer truly believed this (at least, not the way he was teaching it when I was younger), that statement has stuck with me all these years. Ironically, he often used and elaborated on this phrase when he responded to callers asking about various charismatic phenomena… including prophecy. Long before he himself became a prophet in the eyes of his followers.

But listening to him as a preteen/teenager, the biggest thing I took away was a foundational belief that I could and should read the Bible for myself. Thankfully, that stuck with me, even later on when I had pastors telling me some very different things.

2. You can be successful and still… wrong.

Harold Camping was successful at building a radio empire. That might not seem like much today, when nearly all radio stations are ‘networks’ and radio itself is just a minor player in the media world, but he did it starting in the late 50s and 60s, before the Internet, when radio (though past its golden age) was still significant.

For more than 50 years he gathered a devoted international following, but his teaching changed over time. Since I hadn’t really followed his teachings since the mid-to-late 80s, it was a little shocking to hear about what he was teaching by 2011. It wasn’t at all what I remembered. He no longer believed in the existence of a literal Hell. He thought he had his own special revelation of what the Bible meant. In the end, it seemed like he became the very thing he taught against back then. He had people so convinced that the world was going to end in 2011 that they quit their jobs, sold houses and other assets, and gave all their money to Camping’s ministry.

When I was reading through various online forums in 2011 trying to understand what had happened, it was scary to read what some of the most devoted followers were saying. They were star-struck. He could do (or teach) no wrong.

3. Community and Accountability matter.

If Harold Camping had retired before the 2011 mess, the story could have been much different. He could have been remembered as the Christian radio pioneer with some doctrinal eccentricities, but someone who genuinely loved the Bible. He could have left a thriving radio network as his ongoing legacy. But that’s not what happened. In the wake of the failed prophecies, donations (understandably) dried up quite a bit. The network was forced to sell some of it’s most powerful stations — including the one I used to listen to as a pre-teen.

The fact that he didn’t know when to stop may have something to do with this: the founder of “Family Radio” seemed to be a spiritual orphan. Camping and his ministry were not affiliated with any other organization or church, a fact that was prominently displayed on their website. Camping himself had not been a member of a local church since 1988. He felt that churches were all corrupt and apostate, and advised his listeners to stop attending churches as well… just study the Bible and listen to his broadcasts. There was no one in Camping’s life who could question his teachings… and no one on earth who could hold him accountable for his errors.

Camping was never an ordained minister and never claimed to be one. He didn’t call himself a pastor, though what he was doing certainly seemed like virtual pastoring. Behind a microphone in a controlled setting, his radio flock couldn’t really know him. They didn’t see him “doing life.” They knew the radio persona only to the extent to which he wanted to be known. They loved him, and they assumed that he loved them. But after May 21st and Oct 21st of 2011 came and went… he appeared very much unmoved by the pain those who trusted him and felt betrayed. And for those who were hurt, that lack of empathy and community to heal the wounds probably hurt worse than the actual failed prophecy.

My love-hate relationship with Martha and Mary

I haven’t always gotten along with Martha and Mary. Their story in Luke 10:38-42 is one of those passages that kinda bothered me. It seemed a bit out of place, a dissonant note in what otherwise felt like a harmonious chapter.

There are several stories in Luke 10: Lots of going and doing and serving, practical rubber-meets-the-road stuff and spiritual gotta-step-out-in-faith stuff. Jesus sends out the disciples and tells them not to take provisions with them because the laborer is worth his wages. They come back excited because they God used them. Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan – someone who tended to the smallest details of making provision for someone else in need, even if that someone was not part of a group that they would usually associate with.

And then at the end of the chapter, there’s Martha & Mary.

In a few short verses it seems like Jesus does a 180. For most of the chapter Jesus seems to be telling us that it is good to go, work, provide, and serve. Yet Martha (who seems to be doing a lot of working, providing, and serving) is rebuked.

Martha was a doer. She had opened her home to Jesus and the disciples. She had made the arrangements and was taking care of all the details. She had a servant’s heart. And I can see myself in her: I like doing stuff. I revel in logistics. I find immense fulfillment in orchestrating an event. It’s exciting. Serving can be the most life-giving thing in the world to me. I am Martha! I can see myself there with her, hoping there was enough meat to feed everyone, making sure all the rolls in the basket were arranged top-side-up, folding all the napkins, and ensuring the perfect ice-to-sweet-tea ratio in all the glasses (OK, they probably didn’t have sweet tea, but this is my daydream)!

Mary was a worshiper. She wanted to sit at Jesus’ feet. The details could wait. She had something more important to do. And I get that, too: because I love worship. I love to pull away from all the busy-ness and just spend time with God. Whether in solitude or a church service, I know the joy of being so absorbed, so focused on worship that nothing else matters. I am Mary! I can also see myself there with her, hanging on every word from Jesus’ mouth, asking questions, oblivious to my growing to-do list, and enjoying just being with Him.

I could see Mary’s perspective and understand why she wanted to focus on Jesus didn’t want to get involved in the detail work, but I could also understand Martha wanting to serve Jesus but feeling frustrated because she was left to do the work by herself.

How could I be both of these two seemingly incompatible characters?

The story of Martha and Mary had typically been presented to me as a story of the priority of worship – specifically, choosing worship over work. Of course, this perception was colored by my particular church background, and may not apply to everyone. This passage was often cited in the context of encouraging everyone to show up, pay attention, and participate during church services. It was also a favorite for encouraging a particular style of worship that was very emotional and experiential. The implication was that true worship only happened in the absence of all work, service, and “doing.”

The thing is, that kind of work vs worship distinction didn’t make sense to me. It seemed to contradict what I saw elsewhere in the Bible… even elsewhere in Luke 10. If “the better part” was worship, and more specifically, worship in the absence of all work or service, wouldn’t Jesus have excused the priest and the levite in the story of the Good Samaritan? After all, they were the professional worshipers of their time. And wouldn’t Jesus have encouraged the disciples to stick around at His feet, rather than sending them out into the surrounding areas?

But the answer was right there the passage from Luke 10:

38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 NASB)

Jesus didn’t say, “Martha, stop working.” He didn’t even say, “Martha, you’re working too hard.” He said, “Martha, you are worried and bothered.” The issue was not Martha’s work, but the fact that her service had ceased to be worship. This story is about worry vs worship, not work vs worship. And that makes sense: it is possible (and we are even instructed) to work for the glory of God, but it is impossible to worry for the glory of God.

I need to remind the Martha in me that just because I’m excited about doing something, others might not be in the same place. I need to be aware that the same fire and passion that motivates me to do a lot of good things can also run me ragged and burn me out if I’m not careful. I need to keep an eye on my own heart to ensure that worry doesn’t overcome worship in my life.