Monday, September 24, 2012

Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy

I am very good, maybe too good, at creating lots of space in my life. If I get too busy, I tend to become anxious and short tempered. I will give the best of myself to people outside of my family and take the leftovers home to my husband and son. This is not, to say the least, ideal.

So I work at fencing my time. Apart from a few exceptions I don’t work nights or Saturdays (Sunday is hard to avoid since I’m a pastor) and I have no problem with saying ‘no’ to people who ask for my time.

I don’t sign up my son for more than two (one is the norm) activities at a time and I keep our weekends reserved for family.

As my son gets older I know I may not always be able to draw the boundary lines as firmly as I do now, but I suspect I will always be good at fencing my personal time.

All these things should put me in a prime spot in my life to listen for and hear God’s voice - to keep a single day out of the seven in a week to observe in some way God’s direction for us to rest. Yet, even in my 'underscheduled' life, I find it remarkably easy to do busy work all 7 days and not spend time listening to God. Sometimes it's as if I turn on the white noise in my head simply because I don't want to have to listen to what he’s telling me.

Creating a 'Sabbath' (or a holy space) in your life does require time, but it also requires a willing spirit. You could have all the time in the world but if you don't have a desire to hear God’s voice the time factor doesn’t matter.

All of us, no matter how busy or empty our schedules are, need to find space in our lives for rest, renewal and to hear God’s voice. It's important.

It's so important that God commands us to do it. We are to 'keep the Sabbath holy'. That phrase means a lot of different things to different people but today I am using it simply as the idea that we need to make some sacred space in our lives. we need to stop: stop working, stop achieving, stop talking, stop directing. We need to listen: to God, our families, ourselves. We need to be open: to new directions, to being wrong (or right), to being uncertain, to simply waiting.

If we really and truly stop doing, start listening, and allow ourselves to be open to God's guidance that sense of peace and fulfillment that we spend out days chasing will just suddenly show up when we least expect it.

Chesney Szaniszlo

Be still and know that I am God....
-Psalm 46:10


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How tight are you clutching the steering wheel?

If life was a car that I was driving, I would probably be a white-knuckled driver. I like to think that I am in total control of everything that even brushes against my 'sphere of influence' and because of this, I have lived out most of my 38 years (yes, I had diagnosable anxiety as a 3rd grader) in a state of almost constant alert.

I have this constant lie running through my head that by living this way, I am going to prevent bad things from happening and that I will be able to prevent pain and suffering from touching myself or my family.

What a crock!

I am not advocating living capriciously but I am saying that we can do our best but in the end unexpected and sometimes tragic events will take place in our lives. We can be meticulous about safety for ourselves and our own families but we can't control other people. At some point, everyone we love WILL die. Illnesses will take hold. Accidents will happen. Other people will be rude and unkind to us or our kids.

In this life, maybe we should be working to build up our children's and our resiliency. Maybe instead of trying to prevent things from happening to us and our loved ones, we should be learning how to deal with life when it happens - because no matter what we do to stop it or slow it down LIFE WILL HAPPEN.

It seems to me that God is a big part of this ability to be resilient. God is in control, not us. God knows the future and how things will come together, not us. God loves us and our children more than we do ourselves.  In Matthew, chapter 7:9-11 , Jesus tells the people, Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

The most freeing times in my life have been when the worst case scenario has taken place or when I am at my wits end and can't make anything happen on my own power. It is in these situations that I finally throw my hands up and give God what he has been asking for - control of my life.

If I think I'm driving through life alone and something happens - a flat tire, empty gas tank, a smoke filled engine - I am terrified. When I allow myself to go for the ride down the road of life with God driving, I can actually enjoy the road trip - even if there's a flat tire or a breakdown because I trust HIM to take care of me and the situation. When I am not backseat driving or taking control of the wheel,  my life is so much more peaceful because I am not trying to MAKE things happen on my own; I am letting someone who knows the maps and roads of my life better than anyone be in charge - GOD.

This is not easy for anyone - particularly for those of us who like to be in charge. My entire life has been filled with the struggle to give the steering will of my life back to God. This might be the work God is calling you to begin today, too.

Putting ourselves under God's authority and control is the most important work in a Christian's discipleship journey - it is also probably the most difficult and the one that will never be fully completed until our birth into the eternal.

If you are white-knuckled driving today, let go and let God take over. The road might not be the one you wanted but with God driving you will make it to the end of the journey.

Chesney Szaniszlo

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.
-Zephaniah 3:17


Monday, September 10, 2012

What if we focused less on ourselves...

It's pretty easy to look at the people around us and wish we were more like them. Some of us want the bigger house (or better decorated one). Some of us want to be the size of our neighbor or have their perfect clothes, their perfectly well-behaved children, or their perfect, indulgent spouse. Some of us focus on our failings and how others are smarter, healthier, more patient, more wise, more anything...than us.

Some of us walk around thinking we are awesome, that we are better than others either because we have more money, a better education, a better job, God on our side or a better whatever than those around us.

I've been on both sides of this fence. I've spent a lot of my life feeling that I don't measure up and yet at the same time I have taken a wierd sense of pride in being a part of the minority opinion or group of outcasts. I remember being part of a group in seminary that a friend named "the beautiful people" and feeling torn because I liked the feeling of being part of the "in" crowd for the first time but also feeling ashamed for those same feelings.

We hear a lot today about 'us' and 'them': the rich and the poor, Republicans and Democrats, legals and illegals. Within our own communities we even break ourselves into groups: families who do private school and families who do public, Christian and non-Christian, homes with luxury bathrooms and kitchens and homes with 'normal' facilities.

No matter which group you find yourself in, there are usually pros and cons to belonging beginning with a strange mixture of pride and shame.

The point of all this is that when we get right down to it, most of us spend about 99% of our time thinking about ourselves. This is a pretty unbiblical position to find ourselves in and yet we tend to live most of our lives in this self-centered place of how "I" compare to the rest of the world.

In the 16th chapter of Matthew, Jesus said, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?

When we only look at our peers or the people "ahead" of us, we will always find ourselves lacking and continue to focus on 'catching up'. If we focus on those who Jesus tells us to minister to, those who are "behind" us in wealth, faith, education, or ability, then our focus on ourselves will diminish as we step off the treadmill of the suburban race - the race that makes us run faster but never really gets us anywhere.

Chesney Szaniszlo

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  - Luke 14: 12-14


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What the world needs now is....

Love, sweet love?
Economic Security?
Food for the hungry?
Shelter for the homeless?

We need all of the above, but I have to say that I think really what the world needs more of is Jesus Christ. Even those of us who proclaim ourselves to be Christians, aren't necessarily proclaiming Jesus to the world. What we tend to proclaim more is judgement: what people should and shouldn't be doing out there in the big wide world. What's even more interesting is that for the most part, as Christians, we tend to be telling non-Christians how they should be living instead of making sure that we are living the way Jesus told us to live.

There's a song by Casting Crowns called "Jesus, Friend of Sinners" which, if you listen to any contemporary Christian radio station, you have most likely heard. There is a line in that song that resonates deeply within me that states:

Nobody knows what we're for only what we're against when we judge the wounded.
What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and loved like You did.

Now, I am not saying that as Christians we aren't supposed to work hard to be holy and live under the Authority of Scripture. We are supposed to do this! But as Christians we are supposed to be worrying about ourselves more than others.   Instead of focusing first on what we are doing wrong (both as individuals and corporately as a Church), I look around our world and I see us (Christians) focusing more often on what other people are doing wrong.

I wonder what our world could look like if we took all the effort we spend on telling others how they are doing it wrong and focused on doing what Jesus called us to do. If instead of complaining about how others are messing up our world, what if we focused on what we can do to save it simply by being the people Jesus wants us to be.

Here are some things, as Christians, we should keep in mind as we go about our daily lives:

-“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? -Matthew 5:43-47

-Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets - Matthew 7:12

- “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. - Mark 8:34-38

Chesney Szaniszlo