Elizabeth Sullivan, Texas resident who just turned 104, told the world that the secret to her long life is Dr. Pepper. She says that doctors have told her repeatedly that Dr. Pepper would end up killing her…but, they keep dying while she has remained, can of pop in her hand. I finally have some justification for my love of drinking Dr. Pepper!!! Of course, I’m not 104…and according to MY doctor I won’t live to be 80 if I drink Dr. Pepper all the time! However, during my sabbatical, drinking Dr. Pepper has helped me at least once….in a very life-giving way.
One night in early March, mainly due to a large Dr. Pepper I had consumed at lunch, I was wide awake after just one hour of sleep. Usually I get out of bed if I can’t sleep. But, that night was cold and my bed was warm. So, I stayed in bed…and my brain kicked into gear. The thoughts came…about a gazillion of them all at once! Well…, they were more like accusations. First, that I was a failure as a husband and father (Anne deserves a real man, not a wannabe; you don’t spend enough time with the kids; etc). Then, that I am a failure as a mature adult (I’m not taking care of myself like I need to, my diet is out of control, exercise is barely happening). Then, how I am failing as a home owner over things around the house that either I can’t repair (like the drainpipe that is loose from the gutter that I’m not tall enough to reach, even with my extension ladder), or things I can repair if I had the money (like a new kitchen faucet which costs more than we usually have in our monthly budget for home repairs). Of course, a lack of resources leads me to think of all the ways I am failing as a provider (if I was a good provider, if I was a REAL man, I would have enough for what I need).
The lack of money made me think of how I’m failing as my father’s guardian. He’s in a personal care home back in Eastern Kentucky and it breaks my heart because it’s not a very happy place to live out his final years. But, with his finances and his health, it’s the only option for him. If I only I had more resources I could help get him to a nicer place. But, I’m not a wealthy business man….I’m a pastor. And, contrary to what many see in the media, the majority of us senior pastors aren’t just raking in the cash!
Oh, yeah, pastoring! I rehearse every hard conversation, every embarrassing moment, every sermon flop, every relationships I’ve lost or is now strained because of being a pastor; Shouldn’t I be burdened more for the lost than I am? Shouldn’t I have more vision for our future than I have? Am I really called? I wish I could be a better husband and a better father. I wish I was a better provider. I wish I could find a better place for daddy to live. I wish I was a better pastor.
(Disclaimer: this is not an attempt to solicit sympathy or words of affirmation. Just trying to provide common ground with those who, like me, deal with feelings of inadequacy and accusations in our weakest moments.)
That night, my ramblings were interrupted by a simple revelation…one that silenced the random assault on my mind that had been going on for at least an hour. This still, small voice that I have come to know over the past 26 years as the Spirit of God pierced through the cacophony of accusations and said one sentence to me that arrested every other voice:
“Son, you are troubled about many things.”
Believe it or not, that never dawned on me that I was “troubled about many things.” If you had asked me, “Tim, how are you?”, it’s doubtful that I would answer, “Well…I’m troubled about many things!” But, wow, was it true. I WAS troubled about many things. Kind of like someone else I read about in the Gospels.
In the tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She busied herself making His visit comfortable and pleasant. But, her frustration with her sister Mary overshadowed the joy of having Jesus in her house! Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, just listening to His words. Martha was amazed, not only that Mary had left her to serve alone, but that Jesus was apparently allowing it! (My own personal interpretation: Martha was a workaholic who would have kept Mary so busy she would have never heard a word Jesus was saying. I believe Mary would have chosen to forego preparing the turkey dinner Martha wanted to prepare and just had sandwiches and chips if it mean she and Martha could listen to Jesus. But, Martha wouldn’t have that…so Mary let her do her thing!) With a tone of accusation, Martha tells Jesus to make Mary help her. And as always, Jesus looks past all the activity and sizes up the situation accurately:
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 41, 42
It wasn’t Martha’s service that was the issue but the fact that she had become distracted by her serving (vs 40) and wound up getting aggravated, frustrated at Mary, and even tense towards Jesus. How often my busyness and activity in serving Jesus actually distracts me from Him…and even makes me irritated sometimes if I’m being honest (Jesus, can’t you see all that I’m doing for you? Don’t you care?) I have been Martha; I have been Mary; so, how exactly do I read these little five verses in Luke 10?
Well, if I read Luke 10 with Martha as the focus, my only option is either to try to be like Martha, working myself into a frenzy and judging everyone that isn’t doing what I’m doing or to add yet another activity to my list of things to do to try to keep Jesus happy. If I read Luke 10 and focus on Mary, than I can either get the impression that I’m supposed to abandon ALL work and just sit at Jesus’ feet doing nothing, or, become a victim, wounded by the judgements of overbearing people who are upset that I am sitting at Jesus’ feet.
But, neither focus is correct .
Which is why I can’t read Luke 10 with my focus on Martha or Mary, because they’re not the object of the story; JESUS is! Actually, the WHOLE BIBLE is about Him. Jesus Christ is the center of what was going on afternoon, and His presence among them was the ONLY THING anyone in the house should have been concerned about that day. What no one really understood that day was that Jesus was actually passing through Galilee on a journey to Jerusalem where He would eventually be arrested, murdered on a cross, buried in a borrowed tomb, only to rise from the dead!
– So that Martha could be delivered from anxiety and worry, and serve Jesus from a place of rest.
-So that Mary could be free from the voices of overbearing people trying to get her to work harder, and could be secure in the knowledge that she was a daughter of God.
And, praise God, Jesus went to the cross and rose form the dead to release me from the accusations that try to convince me that I’m not “measuring up,” while at the same time giving me the grace to take responsibility for what God has given me to steward. Because of the cross, we aren’t employees of God’s kingdom. We’re not even primarily just citizens of God’s kingdom. We’re SONS of the kingdom…and that’s GOOD NEWS! This was God’s way of introducing me to rethinking stewardship, THE constant theme throughout my sabbatical.
And, I owe it all to a sleepless night…caused by Dr. Pepper. Humm….maybe Elizabeth Sullivan knows more than people think!