Hands Free

 

Betsy and I were blessed with the opportunity to buy a new car just before Thanksgiving this year.  This is a really, really, big deal for us, as the previous (and only other) new car purchase we made was a 1983 Renault Alliance.  Needless to say, there have been some technological advances over the past 34 years in the automotive industry.  Though cruise control and heated seats intrigue me, they pale when compared to the wonder of the ‘hands free’ connection offered between the new car and my phone.

Hands free? Free to do what? Drive the car? No, I won’t will not get on my soapbox about distracted drivers at this time.  Rather, I will opine on what I and we should all be doing, caring for others.  If you have read any of my other entries, you know I am writing from a Christian perspective.  More importantly, I hope to be living as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and in so doing, be involved with the care of my fellow human beings.

The Bible gives us clear direction about this in James 1:27:  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27 NIV).  Everything Jesus taught about helping others was meant to encourage us all to get actively involved in caring for our fellow humans.  When we do, we move religion, with its many negative connotations, into the more positive light of relationship.  This is the heart of the Lord’s message; not formal once-a-week gatherings to simply check a box of obligation, but rather an involved, intentional life that thinks of others before self.  We need free hands to do this.

The Apostle John says it this way: Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18 NIV).  Good intentions are simply not good enough.  We are to use our freed hands to share the love of God with everyone.  The Baker Bible Handbook describes it this way: The Bible connects two important realities that are often separated: paying close attention to our own spiritual formation and meeting people’s basic needs. (p. 929)

 

But being hands free in life is a bit more complicated than having my phone synced with our new Subaru.  In it, merely pressing one button gives me access to my entire list of contacts (that’s not completely hands free now that I think about it).  Prompts from the vehicle then allow me to call anyone of them.  I can be connected with the outside world just that quickly and easily.

Hands free in life is rarely as simple as that however.  Often our hands are tugged in several different directions, usually at the same time.  The day to day demands on our time and resources hardly feels like freedom.  We do what we have to do, which generally leaves us too exhausted for anyone or anything else.

Perhaps your hands are held captive by something more sinister.  Hands that are tied by addiction, in its many forms, are polar opposite of being free. The darkness of these types of bondages seems to envelop you.  It is impossible to be truly helping others when you basically cannot help yourself.  If you are reduced to survival mode by your addiction, only your survival matters.  Others are to be used by you, not helped.

Those of us not tied down in this way, when we do take the time to look around us, we see that there are many who need our help.  The numbers seem overwhelming and that alone can keep our hands bound by inactivity.  Thoughts like, ‘What can I possibly do against the flood of pain and strife,’ often stop us before we get started.  Yet, the scripture quoted from the letter of James gives clear indication that we must be engaged in reaching out to others.  I have often pondered that verse, trying to understand it more from God’s perspective.  It is, after all, God who has freed our hands to be of service to Him.  He has revealed some of His unlimited care to us, hence His viewing of helping others is truly ‘pure and faultless.’

Perhaps you are thinking that this sounds good, but how can I possibly fit one more thing into my already full and hectic life? My question to you in response is: How are you rationing you time?  For me, I can easily get over-protective of ‘my time.’  This happens when I focus on what I have been doing instead of who I am doing it for.  I quickly tend to tip the scales in my favor, telling myself I deserve this or that because of what I have already done.

When I get to this place, I have lost sight of what James 1:27 is teaching.  I need to get myself back to proper perspective, which means realizing once again that the universe is not revolving around me.  The IVP Bible Commentary sums up well what James is saying: Scripture says that God is committed to caring for the powerless and defenseless, including the poor, the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Since the needs of such people are on God’s heart, he expects that same heart to be in us. Further, Jesus himself so identified himself with needy, oppressed people that when we care for one of his people in need, we do it unto him. Any practice of Christianity that does not exhibit this concern in action is deceptive (it misrepresents the truth about God’s own heart) and worthless (it is of no value before God).

Not only is God’s word giving us clear direction as to how we are to respond to the needs of those around us, we have the example of the Son of God to follow as well.  The heart of Jesus was and is for all people to know the love of God.  He constantly had His hands free as He extended forgiveness and the promise of eternity to all.  His love was so great for mankind that He freely allowed His hands to be pierced with nails so that all might be saved.

Few of us are called to anything nearly as drastic; but we are called to give of ourselves.  Whether it is our time, talents or treasure, we are to keep our hands free and hearts open to the hurting world around us.  May we all know the blessing of being a blessing to someone else!

The List

‘A’ list celebrities, bucket lists, grocery lists; even Santa Claus has a list. His being so important we are told through song that he checks it twice! We have Top 40 lists, honey-do lists, greatest plays lists, blooper lists and play lists on our electronic devices. For organization, we often list things alphabetically. Lists are seemingly everywhere, as many aspects of our lives seem to be in list form.
I for one am a list maker. I find my most productive days are ones in which I have made a list of the things I want/need to get done. Driven by equal parts memory retention issues and my orderly nature, I seem to work best when I can see my goals written out.
I will also admit to a certain satisfaction when an item gets scratched off the list at its completion. I’ll leave for another time a discussion of my tendency at days end, as I review the list, to write in other things I have gotten done that were not originally on it; just so I can scratch them off too!
The Bible contains many lists too. The Book of Exodus (chapter 20) records God giving Moses the Ten Commandments, making it safe to assume that God favors lists as well. The Almighty, having created us to be favorably disposed to using lists, gives us His Law in 1 through 10 form.
Jesus himself was also inclined to using lists to teach people. The 12th Chapter of the Gospel according to Mark records a conversation between the Lord and one of the Jewish teachers of the Law that gives evidence of Jesus using a list as a valuable teaching tool.
(The teacher asked him), “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus not only gives the answer as a list of two things, He goes even further and prioritizes them. In brief, Jesus tells us to place God first, others next and then ourselves in our plans. When Jesus lists things is a particular order, it’s a good bet He did so for a reason: For us to follow it as is!
Here lies the key for all us list makers/followers: Priorities. A list loses most of its ability to be a guide for us if there is no order to the items on it. For example, if I place mowing the lawn ahead of making a bank deposit in the checkbook to cover rent, the lack of priority may have repercussions for me. So as important as listing making and following it is for me, without a thought-out plan to do all these things, I may still end up merely chasing my tail.
Some years ago, my wife Betsy came up with a brilliant yet practical idea to help me get and keep my priorities in order regarding my lists. As a Christmas present, you gave me a 5’ x 7’ pocket notebook. On the top of every page, she printed the name Jesus; giving me an instant and on-going reminder to always place Jesus at the top of all my plans:
Jesus
1………………………………………
2………………………………………
3………………………………………
4………………………………………
What a great gift! It helps me in several ways. (Here comes another list!):
Serves as a reminder to pray about how I spend my time.
With Jesus at the top, my priorities are already in order. No matter
how urgent/important an item I put on the list, Jesus is already on top
of it
Allows me to continue using a method that has been successful for me.
Gives me a conversation starter when talking lists with others.
If you are reading this and are already a follower of Jesus Christ, I hope the sharing of my ‘Jesus’ list helps you to remember where to keep your focus. I know it does that for me, especially when I check my list and it seems to be growing as time passes instead of decreasing. I can take a deep breath and pray that the God helps me to re-focus on the most important item on it, Him!
But if you are not (yet) a believer in Jesus, I hope these thoughts on prioritizing your to-do list is helpful. I will be praying that the day comes soon that Jesus will be atop all your lists as well. (BTW, I just added you to my prayer list to receive salvation!)

“I’m Very Busy”

Most people I know are quite busy. Many of my peers are constantly juggling the responsibilities of work and family, often wearing themselves out in the process. Add in the kids, grandkids and all their social activities and a great majority of people are going through their days in a daze.
For some reason, I began to take notice of how my friends were responding to my generic greeting, “How are things going?” I started to keep track in my head how often I got the answer, ‘OK, just very busy.’ My very non-scientific methods resulted in 75% response rate! On average, three out of four people have begun their conversations with me by saying how busy they are. I was floored. It seems to me that folks are defining themselves by the amount of activities they can cram into any given day.
To be clear at the start, I have friends that are non-Christian and Christian alike. Please understand I did my study randomly, as the opportunities presented themselves. I mean no judgment on anyone. My faith-professing friends and those with no leaning in that way have both been consistently running at the before mentioned 75% when asked how things are with them.
I certainly do not put myself above this, either. I have often espoused when asked how that I needed more than 24 hours in a day to get to everything on my list or that having a third arm might be helpful in getting all this stuff done. Being honest, having more hours in a day would simply allow me to schedule more things to do and a third arm would only help carry the extra stuff I would then need!
It seems that being busy has become our Red Badge of Courage. I reference Steven Crane’s novel of a young soldier during the American Civil War who longed for a wound, the badge, that would announce his bravery even though he had acted like a coward. A bloody wound would speak volumes to anyone who saw him, even if it didn’t speak the truth.
Though I do not question the integrity of those answering me that they are so busy, I have begun to wonder if we are, at least to some extent, wearing our busyness like a symbol of our struggle in daily life. It’s as if being busy is an end in its self, that somehow not running full-speed all the time is to be empty.
Jesus shared some heavenly wisdom on this very topic. The Gospel according to Luke, 10:38-42 is where it can be found:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened here home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha makes the mistake that many of us do today. Far too often we allow the doing of whatever task is at hand to obscure the importance of what is going on around us. In this case, the opening of her home and the duties that went with it were important, but she allowed the busyness of preparation to steal her joy of the moment. Martha, like I and so many others have done, blurred the lines between doing and being. She made the getting ready her sole focus, and in so doing lost sight of why she was doing it in the first place.
How many times have you and I settled for a good thing that caused us to miss out on something far better. This happens to me when I get tunnel vision, which only lets me focus on something I must get done, that somehow my completing whatever it is going to be vital to everything else that happens. I need to be reminded to get over myself from time to time!
Continuing with the analogy of wearing our busyness like a badge, and I don’t mean this judgmentally, perhaps Martha enjoyed being the martyr. She was so busy, and her sister Mary was just lolling about at the feet of Jesus. It’s like Martha was saying, ‘Can’t you see what I’m doing here all by myself? Won’t you make it better for me somehow?’ If you can honestly admit to having feelings like that, you’re not alone. We do tend to bury ourselves in the stuff we do. In the end we must ask ourselves who it is we are really doing these things for.
Our pride can be a tricky thing. It seems to be able to sneak in where we least expect it to. In the case of Martha, pride jumped up, confusing and upsetting her. She couldn’t see that her singular focus blinded her to the others around her. Jesus gently pointed this out. While recognizing her discomfort with the situation, the Lord was also trying to get Martha to re-focus. She wanted things to be just right for this important visit, but in trying to accomplish this she was missing the whole point. That is why Jesus told her that Mary had chosen what is better.
What are well-intended busy people to do? To start with, slow down and take a breath. Don’t allow the accumulation of tasks to get done overwhelm you. It is ok to ask for help. You need not allow yourself to be on a low boil because no one is helping you. Other folks are just as crazy busy. Perhaps if you take the risk of admitting you could use some help, others will not only step in to lend a hand, but also take a look at their own situation as well.
Being busy ought not to be a badge we wear or a cross to bear. Rather, let all your activities reflect the love and kindness of your Savior. He knows how we struggle in this area. Insert your name into verse 41: “. . . you are worried and upset about many things.” Now take to heart His offer to choose what is always the best, Him! Only He can set you free to know the peace that He brings; the peace that surpasses all human understanding. Don’t be so busy that you miss it.