What’s Seeping Through Your Skin?
Slowing Down, part 6
Wildwind Community Church
January 3, 2009
We’re going to do something tonight I have never done before. We’re going to pick up with new sermons in a series that I was doing a few months ago. This series will probably be a major emphasis for us at least for the rest of this year, and every time I touch on a topic in that category, I’m just going to consider it part of that series. Whoever said a series has to be preached in a series?
Our second series of this year was called Slowing Down. We can’t follow Jesus if we are in a hurry. And most of us are in a hurry because that’s the kind of culture we live in. So in order to follow Jesus we must learn to slow down, but in order to slow down we must learn to question, challenge, and then change the assumptions we have made about what is the best way to live – we must restructure our lives. Tonight’s message is called What’s Seeping Through Your Skin. The answer is whatever you’re structuring your life around. Whatever you structure your life around seeps through your skin. It gets to you at the deepest level and becomes part of you.
I know I have shared before the story of how, a few years ago, I called a friend for some spiritual guidance and he said, “You might check out the book, ‘The Life You’ve Always Wanted,’ by John Ortberg.” Immediately I replied, “I’ve already read that.” The phone line was silent for a moment, then he said, “Are you doing any of it?” There’s a big difference between hearing and doing – a big difference between knowing it would be good to do something and actually doing it. That’s why we’ll keep adding messages to this series all year. Because I might have to speak on the critical importance of structuring our lives in certain ways to make it possible to follow Christ several times a year for the next five years before most people really start applying this stuff and nailing it down. But if we don’t apply it – if we don’t have our lives scheduled properly – if we haven’t taken control of how we are living – then despite our best intentions we simply will be unable to do hardly anything else I preach about. Because following Jesus happens in a certain context. What is that context? It is a life of order, of structure, of rest, so we can remain close to Christ through the ordinary moments of our day.
Let’s look at Matthew 11:28-30 again. I know I’ve shown it to you a thousand times. Let’s keep looking at it until it seeps under our skin and into our lives. I’ve typically read this to you out of The Message translation, but tonight I want to use the Amplified Bible so you can see it with fresh eyes. This version is called Amplified because it routinely explains itself in parentheses right inside the text itself.
Matthew 11:28-30 (AMP)
28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]
29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.
30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good—not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.
Here we see that following Jesus is something that happens when we approach Jesus and allow him to “cause” us to rest! Following Jesus happens restfully, not hectically. Following Jesus does not create hardship, rather it eases and relieves and refreshes our souls. Does that describe you? Are you generally (perhaps not always but generally) rested and relieved and refreshed in your soul?
I think honestly most of us have to say no. We are not rested. For example I think most of us are NOT observing a regular Sabbath day –a day of rest where we intentionally refrain from work and take time to honor God in special ways. The last time I preached on the Sabbath, I actually had some people who expressed quite a bit of irritation over it. “That’s not realistic.” “That can’t be done.” “How is that even possible?”
My friends, I do not dispute that the call to a weekly Sabbath is a strong call – it’s a tall order – a big charge. But it is a charge God has given us and we probably should look at it as often as we have to until we learn how to do it! Thomas Merton wrote: “There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence…activism and overwork . The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence…It kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
Could there be any better time than the first church service of this year to be reminded of the great damage we may have already done to our souls this past year, and be challenged to stop those cycles of violence by learning to rest? The difficulty of it, the challenge of it, the frustration of it, and the degree to which we are resentful of it show how truly we are in need of it.
But it is not only the weekly Sabbath I am referring to tonight. The weekly Sabbath provides structure for our weeks. But what are weeks if not collections of days? And if weeks are just collections of days, then the question is not only how are we structuring our weeks, but how are we structuring our days?
I do not want a show of hands here, but I’ll just ask the question how many people intentionally dedicate a portion of pretty much every day to God? That would be a great question for one of our online surveys, wouldn’t it? My guess is 50% or less – perhaps much less. Many of us struggle to do this on any kind of regular basis. I think one of the main reasons for this is because our basic attitude is that we are trying to “fit God into our lives,” and it’s hard to find the time. Now think about that statement for a moment – “fitting God into my life.” Is there not in that statement an element of self-worship, which we have not shed likely because we do not realize it is there and have not been challenged to do so? If I’m trying to “fit God into my life,” then I am working under the twin false assumptions that 1) my life belongs to me and I get to fill it with whatever suits me and makes me happy before God gets to have any say; and 2) God’s proper place is in the margins, around the periphery – taking up whatever space I have determined to grant to him. Now when I say it that way, you can immediately see how hugely wrong both of these assumptions are, but they are indeed the unspoken assumptions behind the idea that I must find some way to “fit God in” to my life.
Success and time management guru Stephen Covey used to give students a jar of sand and some rocks of various sizes and would challenge them to fit all the rocks into the jar so that the lid would screw on tightly. Students were almost always unable to do it. Covey would then say, “You cannot do it because it is not possible as long as the sand is already in the jar. But let me show you a way that it can easily be done.” He would pour out the sand, place the rocks in the jar, and the sand would then fill in easily around the spaces between the rocks. Covey would speak of the main priorities of our lives as being “big rocks,” that absolutely must go into the jar of our lives first (onto our schedules and calendar) if they are going to fit at all.
All of us who are Christ-followers came to Christ with lives full of sand. We already had full jars. Tons of things we cared about, and were doing, and were invested in. And we have spent so much time ever since then constantly trying to stuff the God-rock into the jar. We know it’s important. We know it belongs in the jar. Perhaps we’ve even started to feel exhausted from the million and one ways we have tried to stuff the God-rock into the jar. Or maybe we have felt guilty for our inability to get it stuffed in there. What’s the problem? The problem is simply that we haven’t poured the sand out first. If we will simply put the God-rock in first, we will find that the sand easily fills in around it.
What’s the sand? The sand is all the stuff you are doing that currently makes you feel irritated when I talk about keeping the Sabbath and taking a holy day off each week. The sand is the essential and never-ending demands of life – the stuff that will always still be there tomorrow. The sand is mowing the lawn and doing the laundry and washing the dishes and fixing the car and reformatting the computer and hooking up the cable and watching the TV show and getting caught up on work, and reading the magazine and sending the email. It’s not that it’s not important – some of that stuff is actually very important. The problem is that it’s sand – it’s the stuff that can, will, and often does crowd God out of our lives. Here’s what Paul said about that stuff.
Philippians 3:8-9 (MSG)
8 Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ 9 and be embraced by him.
Next to knowing God, everything else is garbage – Paul said it’s crap! Paul had learned what was rock and what was sand, and had dumped the sand out of his life so that he could fit the rock in. Some of that sand should be dumped in the trash and never picked up again. Some is okay once the rock is where it needs to be. But the sand absolutely has to go if we want the rock to fit in.
Most of us have hearts that are in the right place – we truly long to follow God and know him. But it’s nearly impossible, given the way we live. And I’m not saying that our lives are necessarily filled with bad things. In fact, most of our lives are filled with the good things that distract us from the best thing – the one necessary and essential thing. God can’t seep through our skin because we’re letting so many other things seep through.
We can see that clearly when we think of our children. Many of us here tonight are parents who still have children in our homes. How are our goals for our children any different than parents who are raising their children without God? In what ways are we raising our children differently at home because of the call God has placed on our lives, and theirs? Now I know that’s hard to hear – believe me, I understand – I have children at home too. But it’s one of the most important questions I could ask tonight. And see, I didn’t let us off the hook by asking, “In what ways are we raising our children differently because of the call God has placed on our lives?” I asked “In what ways are we raising our children differently because of the call God has placed on our lives?” Most people probably would say, “Well, I take them to church and encourage them to be active with their youth group or kids program.” That’s good. But it’s two hours a week. What’s happening at home? What about the other 166 hours? What’s seeping in during those hours? Parents – those of us who believe deeply and genuinely that God has called us and set us apart – that God has a legitimate claim on every aspect of our lives – even and perhaps especially our children – in what ways are we structuring our family lives – together – as a family – around God? In what ways are we teaching our children to resist the overwhelming pull of the culture around them that is doing everything in its power to stamp out the distinctive call of God in their lives? How are we protecting and fortifying our children against materialism, against covetousness, against greed, against idolatry, and against the busyness and workaholism that are glorified in our culture? I mean, parents, we know this stuff is out there. Do we have tools in our toolbox for resisting it and teaching our kids to resist it, to keep it from seeping through our skin?
We are stranded in Babylon, my friends. We are in this culture that is moving constantly in directions that sweep us away from quietness, away from peace, away from stillness, and toward chaos, toward anxiety, toward constant movement and reaction. There are 168 hours in a week. Do we think that 2 hours a week at church and two hours a week in small group is going to allow God to seep through our skin ? Perhaps not. So some of us add to that a 10-15 minute quiet time per day where we focus on God (as I said earlier, probably most aren’t even doing that!). So if we’re in church and in small group every week, that’s four hours a week. Then if we’re doing a 15 minute quiet time of prayer and study seven days a week (how many who are doing it are doing it seven days a week?!), that’s six, possibly seven hours a week of conscious, intentional nurturing of our spirits and our souls, where we expose ourselves to God’s grace and hope it will seep through our skin. Let’s take out sleep time, assuming we’re sleeping eight hours a night – which most of us aren’t. But we can subtract another 56 hours that way, leaving us with 105 waking hours per week. That’s after church activities, after personal spiritual disciplines, if we’re doing them, and after sleeping at night. 105 hours, of which during practically all of them we have media screaming at us, our own desires pulling at us, and the busyness, pressures, concerns, and sometimes the maddening boredom of life swirling all around, seeping into our skin. Is it any wonder that we lack the peace and the rest Jesus talked about? Out of 112 total waking hours per week, the most dedicated among us are probably soaking in God for six-seven hours a week, hoping that will be enough for God to seep into our skins and transform us. (Sidenote: I know I’m talking a lot about hours, but when I start talking to you about how to structure your life so that God can seep into your skin, it’s really not going to focus as much on hours as it seems right now.)
Think about an Amish child who goes to his mom and says, “How come we don’t have iPods and TV and dishwashers?” and that child’s mom says, “Eli (or Zechariah, or whatever!), there’s nothing wrong with those things. But son, you are not like everyone else. You are special. You are called to something different – something greater. Your life is about learning to pay attention to the greatest gift of all: to God – who is stirring inside of you – who has set you apart.” She says, “Eli, do you know what? There are pastors preaching to their congregations right now how to connect with and to know God – and do you know what they’re saying? They’re saying, ‘The technology is fine for what it is – but if you want to know God, you’re going to have to put your phone down – you’re going to have to turn off the TV – you’re going to have to shut off the computer and sit quietly and learn to listen to the silence.’ We want you to know God, Eli.”
Now Eli may or may not appreciate this answer. But do you know what? Eli will sit down and eat almost every meal, if not every meal, every day, with his family. Instead of retreating to his room to play video games in the evening, he will play with his siblings – maybe even talk to his parents. Instead of sitting in silence and watching a video, his family will play games together. There is a deep structure for Eli’s life that makes room for God and the things God values. We laugh at the lives of the Amish, yet none of us can actually object to them. We say they have gone to extremes in building their lives around God. Maybe so, if that is possible. But if so, we have gone to the other extreme, and if you’re going to go to an extreme, you’d better pick the right one. Have we? Exactly how ARE we communicating to our children that they are set apart and different and special and called by God to something amazing and immense and far more important than the toys and electronics (you too, women!) and luxuries and spiritual candy we think we can’t live without?
Most of us lack a vision for the kind of people we could be if the controlling influences of this world were forced to take a back seat in our lives. Most of us also lack a vision for how this could actually be done. This is not your fault. This is the fault of those who are responsible for guiding you spiritually, and it comes from fundamentally short-sighted and broken ways of understanding our salvation. To explain that I would have to get far more scholarly with you than most of you would appreciate, but I intend to spend the rest of my ministry righting that wrong.
Right now our pattern is to say, “I don’t have time for a Sabbath – I’m too busy to spend a whole day a week doing nothing.” But that’s a human way of thinking. God’s way of thinking seems to be, “That’s right – you ARE too busy – that’s your problem. And taking a Sabbath every week – a day where you do nothing – is the answer to that problem. It will force the controlling influences of this world to take a back seat in your life.” That doesn’t sound so bad. Because either they will, or God will. What else, other than Sabbath-keeping, will force the controlling influences of this world to take a back seat in your life, so that God can seep through your skin?
Next week I want to show you what I mean when I talk about structuring life around God. I want to talk to you about a guy named Daniel in the Old Testament. Like you and me, Daniel grew up in a society that liked to have religion around to make them feel spiritual, but wasn’t interested in obeying God in any way. Much like today, the people of Daniel’s time wanted to use God to make themselves feel good. Still, in this society, Daniel found a way to keep God’s values, God’s priorities, and God’s influence number one in his life and not to let Babylon seep through his skin. My friends, that’s what we need, and that is what I want to begin offering to you next week.
So you have homework for this week. Your homework is simply to ask yourself if you’re picking up what I’m throwing down. In other words, what’s seeping through your skin? Do we need to reevaluate the way we are living, and structure our lives differently? Remember, we must follow Jesus the Truth, along the path of Jesus the Way – and the Way of Jesus is one of rest. And in order to truly rest, we’ll need to reassess some things. I hope you’ll come next week 1) convinced there’s a problem; and 2) ready to start looking at solutions.