Decide What To Do With The Time

This famous quote from Tolkien has been rattling around in my brain for the better part of a week. It squeezed out of my mouth in Sunday’s sermon, perhaps the last sermon for a while as we all hunker down for COVID-19 contingencies. It is one of the better sentiments on crisis one can internalize.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, Chapter 2

First an observation completely applicable to my thoughts. In the novel, this line comes very early as Gandalf is letting Frodo in on the history and darkness of the ring. The line helps set us up as the reader for the peril that is to come, and for Gandalf’s philosophy in how to handle it. By contrast, in the movie version, this conversation is moved deeper into the film, in the Mines of Moria.

I love the movies but one complaint I have is Hobbits should all be fatter

This matters a bit. The movie has these words when the trouble of the times is fully on them, after the Council of Elrond, after Weathertop, and after they are trapped inside the dark mine. We know the story will get darker yet, but from Frodo’s perspective, in the movie, he probably thinks it is already as horrible as it can get. Getting these words in the middle of it is one thing.

But Tolkien wrote them at the beginning. When Frodo is still in The Shire, around his fire, with clean clothes and a full belly. In the novel, Frodo’s words are about trying to avoid difficult times altogether, in which Gandalf basically says, ‘Hard times can’t be avoided’ In the movie, Frodo’s words are about ‘I wish I wasn’t in this horrible time.’ to which Gandalf essentially says, “we all do.”

The highlighted page from my copy of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Why am I thinking so much about this exchange? Because we are in the beginning of some very difficult times. Gandalf is telling us we can’t do a thing about the fact we live in these times, and pining away for the past–even if that past was only two months ago–doesn’t help. We have to choose, decide, how we’re going to react and behave right now. And to answer that, there are three options.

  1. We can live in denial. “There is no threat,” or “It is all hyped up and overreaction,” or perhaps, “I’m young so it will not bother me.”
  2. We can panic and live in fear. These are the emotions which are producing bare grocery store shelves and people talking about the end of the world.
  3. We can choose to be true to our calling in Christ and fulfill the great commandment.

As you might imagine, I encourage you to reject denial, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and all sorts of bad ideas. I also think we need to not feed the panic and fear. So how do we fulfilling our caring in Christ? How do we rise above it and decide the noble, highest use of the time we’ve been given?

It starts with perspective. The Lord put you on the planet to love people, which means to be a helper. You can help the entire world by practicing social distancing, follow the recommendations of health officials, and staying home.

But that is not the only help. I encourage you all to be proactive. Reach out to your neighbors and friends and make certain they are okay. You probably have vulnerable people near you — older people, those with chronic immune illnesses, COPD, and other respiratory issues — and these people shouldn’t be anywhere near a grocery store or in the population right now. So you can help. Make sure they know you’re available to go to the store for them, deliver meds from the pharmacy, or just to call and say hi.

It also helps everyone when you stay calm. Calmness comes from remembering two things. One, this is not the first crisis we’ve had. We are being asked to stay home and watch Netflix, our grandparents were asked to leave home and fight the Nazis. See the difference? The second thing it helps to remember is none of this was a surprise to God. He knew it was coming, and he has prepared you–indeed if I may — he has chosen you for this time. This is your time to shine; so do it. And do it well.

It will also help if you smile. Say encouraging words. Be playful. Give thanks. Worship the Lord. Love.

It is when times are tough that our true character emerges and our actual core values take center stage. I believe we are a noble people, and I believe the Lord is working right now to show us how to live better and behave better by loving each other.

But these aren’t my only thoughts. Time is subject here from Tolkien’s novel. Literally, not figuratively, literally many of us have been given time. Time at home. Make the most of it. Play games with your family. Work on a project you’ve been putting off. Paint the deck. Increase your exercise routine. How about read a book — I happen to know some great books by this Greening guy . . .

Get creative. Paint a picture. Write a poem.

Clean the house. Mop the floors. Call your mom/dad/brother and talk.

Read the Old Testament. Read the New Testament. Study the words of Jesus. Pray more. Pray different.

You and I can’t get out of the time we live in nor can we change it. What we can do, is our time well. This, right now, is the time we’ve been given. What are you going to do with yours?

AIRPLANE MODE AND OTHER ADVENTURES

This going to work every day again has been a difficult adjustment. The biggest adjustment has been reacquiring some skill sets that I previously had mastered, but lost due to atrophy. It is true–use it or lose it. Here are some things I need to work on:

1. The important skill of remembering to turn your iPhone to airplane mode if you intend to use it to read scripture during a worship service. Easter Sunday it was still dark (and rainy) when the sunrise service began, so I thought myself clever using my iPhone to read the scripture because of the backlight. In the middle of Isaiah my phone asks me if i want to update. I tell it no. It asks if tonight is good. Rather embarrassing.

2. I had forgotten how hard announcements are. I flubbed them up royally yesterday, and even had to rearrange on the fly. Once upon a time announcements were seamless to me and I spoke the language of “put on your calendars” and “you will not want to miss” as if it were my mother tongue. Now I stammer and stutter all the way through.

3. Time management is the hardest. I grossly overestimated how much time I had between small group and worship service yesterday.

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Another skill to reacquire is keeping my eyes open while preaching.

The result was we started everything several minutes later than we intended, thus pushing everything late.

4. Temperature control, for me, is vital. If I get too warm when I am preaching my throat gets hoarse, I cough, and then I feel myself losing energy. That happened yesterday because I did not make certain the thermostat was set at the right temperature. By the time I left the building, I was in need of hydration and a throat lozenge. I used to be on top of things like that, but somehow along the way I’d forgotten.

5. I didn’t make it to the back of the building quick enough on any of the first three weeks. That has got to change, because I have found, through the years, that a lot of pastoring happens at the back of the door after a worship service.

There are other things I’ve got to re-learn, but these are the ones that are bothering me on this Monday morning.

SIPPING COFFEE, THINKING HARD

I had a missing-time experience this morning so I decided to take advantage of it.  No, not an alien abduction kind of missing time, but the other kind of missing-time.  Someone I was supposed to be seeing was suddenly unavailable and I had a hole in my schedule.  I took advantage of this hole and did something I used to do a lot but haven’t done in very long while.  I went to a local coffee bar, ordered my favorite caffeinated beverage (cinnamon dolce latte skinny extra hot), made small talk with the newbie barista—who did a great job, by the way on the drink—and sat at the little bar on the stool and worked in a very non-hurry-up-lets-go way.

It was great.

The first thing I did was finish the last few pages of my Sherlock Holmes novel.  It was nice.  Then I opened my laptop and wrote a whole long section for the sermon I’m preaching in three weeks on marriage.  It is a part of my sermon series on “doubt” and the theme is the doubts many people have today about marriage.  As a side note, I finished that sermon just a few moments ago, will edit it tomorrow and will officially be caught up in the sermonizing category.  For me caught up is three weeks ahead.

Then, I sat and daydreamed about what I would like to see happen in our church and ministry between now and the end of the year.  I used to daydream a lot about ‘how it could be’ but I’ve not lately.  There have been many reasons for this, but I know I need to do it more.  Creativity comes from contemplation.

As I thought I brainstormed such things as church plants in the area, increased presence in the community, how to improve our children’s ministry, and how I might want to tweak my sermonizing.  I also spent some time reflecting upon the Easter weekend.  Attendance on Sunday was very good.  Good Friday was a bust, though.  We had too many doughnuts leftover, but that might be because somehow they were far away from where the people were.

The coffee bar lounge was very crowded.  Almost every seat in the place was filled.  To my left sat a woman, about my age, who kept alternately reading a novel and writing notes in a spiral notebook.  She must be studying, but she looked far too old to be a student, and the book she was reading looked like something you pick up in line at the grocery store.  Maybe she is studying to be a writer? 

To my left were a father and mother with a little boy in between them.  That little boy must have been about 4.  He talked the entire time.  Non-stop.  It was a thing of beauty.  What made me sad was that all his questions were directed toward his father, not his mother.  Daddy answered all of his question with short, one syllable answers.  Daddy was more interested in his USA Today and his cell phone than he was his son.  Have I ever been that guy with my daughters?  Yes.  Lord forgive me. 

Behind me was two different tables filled with middle-aged women.  At both tables the main topic was church.  I got the definite impression it was not a small group or accountability group or a fellowship group.  It was a “these are the things we don’t like about our church” group.  At first I was thankful that these folks were not from my church, but then I realized two things.  First, since the body of Christ is so intrinsically connected, all believers are a part of ‘my church.’  Second, my church people were probably in another coffee place, or perhaps they would be here tomorrow.

These uncomfortable thoughts made me remember why I needed to spend time in the coffee bar more often.  It connects me to reality—to where people really are—foibles, faults, and phobias.  Somewhere in the gossiping church women, the neurotic note taking woman, and the coming adolescent son-father train wreck was where most of us live.  When I preach, these are the kinds of people who are hearing.

I opened my laptop and made some revisions to my sermon.

OOPS, THERE IS SAND IN MY BIBLE

sandcastles come and go

 

So we are on day three of our spring break get-a-way.  A big shout out to Megan for house sitting for us.  This morning I’m thinking about three beach realities that inform my walk with the Lord and my place in the world.  These thoughts coalesced this morning as I read my Bible out on the deck and heard the surf pounding the shore.

1.  A lot of the trees found here, either in the dunes or just off of them lean away from their roots.  These trees have grown in the constant wind—strong wind—blowing off the shore.  The tree looks healthy and actually looks strong, but it leans away from the beach.  The strong, stormy wind blowing off of the waters is an appropriate biblical image of the nicks and dings of life that blow over us.  These winds of illness, relationship troubles, and economic problems all blow us and force us to lean away from them, but we can’t escape it.

The Bible, in Psalm 1, describes that the righteous person is like a tree with deep roots. It is the roots which hold us in place.  Our trunks may lean, flinching from the pain, but if our roots are deep—deep into the Scriptures, our church community that holds us accountable, and our ongoing connection to Christ Jesus—then we will hold in there, faithfully, even if we lean a bit.  Our lean might be kinship to Jacob’s limp.

2.  Yesterday we built a sandcastle in the frigid sand.  It was actually a pretty good one.  Phoebe decorated it nicely and Chelsea helped build the walls.  Kim took photos.  Today, though, that sandcastle is gone.  The surf pounded all night and washed it away.  Sad face.

It doesn’t seem to matter what we build on this earth, the pounding, thumping, surf of time and nature eventually destroys all of our handiwork.  Your beautiful yard you work hard to manicure, the car you polish, wax, and vacuum, the job you think is so important all will fade out of existence. 

What remains?

The only things that remain are the eternal things.  Of course, the most important eternal thing is our very soul which is kept in Christ.  But I’m also thinking of the eternal aspect of our relationships and our memories.  Long after the sandcastle has washed away back in to the sea from which it came, my family will remember the day, the moment, and the laughter.  These are the things we take with us through life that really matter:  Our memories and the relationships.

3.  While we are here at the beach, time is measured a little differently for us.  I’m still wearing my watch, but I’m not nearly as concerned about it as when I am at home.  I’ve been told that there is such a thing as “beach time.”  I admit I don’t know what that really means, but I first was introduced to it years ago at Ocean Shores, Washington.  Beach time seems to be that concept that it is not the ticking of the hands that matters, but the quality of the time and the enjoyment of the moment.  Beach time doesn’t say, “We’ll eat at 5PM,” it says “When we’re done flying a kite we’ll eat.”  This week, the Greenings are on beach time!

This made me think of the New Testaments distinction between kairos and chronos.  Chronos is the ticking, thumping, deadline oriented time that most of western culture lives in.  But kairos is God’s time, the “last days” kind of time, not measured by the clicking ticking clock but by the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  Somehow I need to recapture kairos and loose some chronos. 

Maybe I’ll learn another couple of things before we leave.  Maybe.  I hope.