Vision

In Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) My prayer for this ministry is that by rightly dividing the Scriptures, I might be able to facilitate all those aspects of the Scriptures to the benefit of all those who visit this website.

Mission

The mission of this ministry is to be consistent with Jesus' original command to his disciples: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20

Personal Disclosure

I am a fellow traveler who doesn't have all the answers and still makes many mistakes. However, I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ, the one and only King of kings, and I am so amazed that he knows exactly who I am and yet still died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead and called me to be His follower!

God's Message To You

"Dear Child,

I wanted you to know just how much I loved you so I sent my only Son, Jesus, to tell you and show you. If you make the decision to believe in Him, then you and I will be able to spend eternity together! I Love You!" (John 3:16 paraphrase)

Method

“Here there is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment.

Here there is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—freedom to think within the bounds laid down by Scripture.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Don't Just Do Something--Sit There!


(Audio version; Music: "More And More Of You" by Fike/Lee/Riddle & "I Surrender" by Hillsong Live)








Introduction

            You know, with all our modern technology, you’d think we would have hours and hours of extra time available at the end of every day. Cell phones made it possible to talk on the phone while we were on the move. Computers made gathering information so much easier. Gyms meant we could do all our exercises in one place. Thousands and thousands of airline flights make it possible to get virtually anywhere we want with simply the push of a button. Automotive transportation is now so efficient that traveling hundreds of miles every day for work is not out of the question. Yet with all these efficiency tools and time saving functions, we rarely have enough time to accomplish everything we set out to accomplish every day—especially when it comes to spending time with God. And that’s because most people don’t see that as time well spent or as accomplishing anything or being productive because there don’t appear to be any tangible results. Many of us live in a culture that places an extremely high value on productivity—if you’re not busy you’re doing something wrong. We even have sayings like “Idle hands do the devil’s work.” Meaning you should always be busy doing something or you’re bound to cause some kind of trouble. Now this may seem true for some people who have a habit of getting into trouble and who also have free time on their hands. But I suspect if these same people are looking for trouble, they’ll find it whether they are busy or not. There are plenty of people who get into all kinds of trouble without any more measurable free time than anyone else. I’ll wager that getting into trouble has more to do with a person’s unchecked sinful nature than it does available free time. Nevertheless, my dad was one of those people who wouldn’t stand for anyone sitting around idle while he worked. I can still hear him yelling at me when I was watching him work on something. He’d yell, “Don’t just stand there, do something! Put something away! Clean something up! You’re not helping me by just standing there! Do something!”

            What does being productive look like for you? Making sure you’re registered for all the hardest classes? How about having your calendar booked solid from the time you get up in the morning until you finally go to sleep at night? Do you keep a note pad on your nightstand to write down all the things you need to remember for the next day? Have you ever said something like this: “I’d rather not say I forgot to pick the kids up at school, I’d rather say that I left them at school to make sure they were on time for classes the next day?” Does productivity mean never having time during your day that isn’t dedicated to making money or doing something for your family and/or neighbors? Would you even know what to do if your entire day weren’t completely planned out? What would you do with an extra hour in your day? Be honest, what if each day had 25 hours in it instead of 24 hours. What was the first thing you thought of doing with that hour? Work more? Go to the gym? Sleep more? Did anyone say, “I would finally have an hour to spend with God?” If you said that, are you saying you would spend 24 hours doing whatever you normally do in a 24-hour period and then spend the 25th hour with God? Really? How is that significantly different from doing what you would normally do in 23 hours and spending the 24th hour with God? You see, it’s not that there aren’t enough hours in the day to be able to spend time with God, we neglect to make it a priority in our lives. We fail to make space for God in our lives because we’ve determined that time spent with God is somehow unproductive time because we can’t see any short-term benefits. Maybe there are some long-term benefits like a place in heaven. But we hope that’s way down the road. What we really want to see is some kind of short-term benefit for every minute of our daily activities. We have somehow come to believe that our value is derived from our activity instead of gaining our personal value from God. Most of you don’t even realize how exhausted you are because of all your activity but you don’t know how or what to change. Well here’s some advice we can take right from Jesus, “Don’t Just Do Something—Sit There!” Okay so Jesus didn’t say that exactly. But he came really close to it in an encounter with Mary and Martha, the sisters of His good friend Lazarus.

Subject Text

Luke 10:38-42

            38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But 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, 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Context

            We know Mary and Martha very well as the sisters of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. We know them all mainly in the context of the story told by John when Lazarus gets sick and dies yet Jesus raises him from the dead. That event came after the events of our Subject Text. This seems like a strange and insignificant event to be included in one of the four Gospels but it speaks directly to all the “activities” we invite into our lives that distract us from the things that are most important. In the Ancient Near East culture, it was shameful to turn away a guest—uninvited or otherwise. There was a certain degree of honor involved in lavishing a guest with the best service, food, and sleeping accommodations. And it was particularly important if that guest was a popular religious leader or teacher. Martha was doing exactly what the world generally and her culture particularly expected her to do. Mary, however, wasn’t interested in what the world or her cultured expected. She had an opportunity to hang out with Jesus and she wasn’t about to let the world or the culture’s expectation rob her of her chance to spend time just listening to Jesus.

Text Analysis

38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

            Jesus had been traveling and teaching throughout Galilee but returned to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7) where he spoke to the people. Thereafter, according to v. 38, Jesus visited His friends in Bethany which is located on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Before we go any farther, I want to caution you to not be too harsh on Martha. It may seem like Jesus is chastising Martha but let’s understand first who Martha is. She’s probably the oldest sister of Mary and Lazarus because she is always depicted as being bold. In fact, the Aramaic translation of her name is the feminine form of “Lord and Master” so she is the Mistress of the house. In the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, it is Martha who runs out to meet Jesus after Lazarus had died to tell Him that if He had come when they first sent for Him then He might have been able to save her brother. However, she was also the one in the same story who confessed that Jesus had the power to overcome humanity’s greatest enemy—death (Jn 11:1-44). Martha is comfortable yet respectful in her relationship with Jesus. Very simply, Jesus and Martha are good friends so be careful to understand the interaction between Jesus and Martha in that context.

            Although the Ancient Near East culture expected and even demanded hospitality to traveling strangers, Jesus is not a stranger to Martha even though is seems like it from the way Luke introduces her in our Subject Text. However, this introduction is for our benefit only since this is our first encounter with her in Luke’s gospel. Martha opens her door to Jesus as a good friend. “Salvation has come to the house of Martha and Mary…While there is a tension between the challenge of homelessness implicit in the call to discipleship in [Lk] 9:57-58 [57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”] and the domestic setting to which salvation comes here, it is hardly necessary to resolve this in sociological terms by speaking of a change in the understanding of discipleship as Christianity developed from being a radical, but socially marginal, phenomenon to finding its place in the ongoing life of human society. Both forms of discipleship will have had their place from the beginning.”[1]

39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

            At first glance, v. 39 doesn’t seem really that unusual. However, you need to try and think in terms of first century Ancient Near East culture. Women were not considered to be worthy of being taught or instructed. Let me try and paint a picture of the attitude toward women in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day as recorded in some of the ancient Jewish extra-biblical writings. Let me present you with the Jewish attitude toward Gentile women first. A Gentile woman had an even lower status than did Jewish women. In fact, a Gentile woman was considered an animal (Kerithoth 6b and Berakoth 58a)! Women were supposed to be shunned by men in social public contact. From the Mishna tractate Abot 1,5: “Engage not in too much conversation with women. They said this with regard to one’s own wife. How much more does the rule apply to another man’s wife? As long as a man engages in too much conversation with women, he causes evil to himself, for he goes idle from the study of the Torah, so that his end will be that he will inherit gehenna.” Without getting off into the weeds trying to explain the meaning of “gehenna,” it will have to suffice for the purpose of brevity that the word eventually became a rough equivalent with hell. So in the context of how Jewish women were viewed during the time of Jesus, the religious leaders taught that a man who communicated too much with a woman was going to go to hell! Now think about that for just a minute. Can you define what “too much conversation” was? I’m guessing they wouldn’t have been able to give a definitive answer to that question either. Consequently, men communicated very little with women in general in order to avoid being somehow arbitrarily condemned to hell. And this doesn’t even begin to fully portray the attitude toward women when it came to religious teachings. From the Jewish tractate Sota 10a: “May the words of the Torah be burned, than they should be handed over to women.” And also from the tractate Sota 21b: “Whoever teaches his daughter Torah teaches her obscenity.”

            I hope I’ve been able to paint an accurate picture of the attitude Jewish men, and particularly Jewish religious leaders, had toward women. It creates a sharp contrast to the scene in v. 39 with Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Jesus teach about the Scriptures alongside the disciples; the men who traveled with Jesus. “People normally sat on chairs or, at banquets, reclined on couches; but disciples sat at the feet of their teachers. Serious disciples were preparing to be teachers—a role not permitted to women…Mary’s posture and eagerness to absorb Jesus’ teaching at the expense of a more traditional womanly role would have shocked most Jewish men.”[2]

40But 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!”

            Our Subject Text focuses primarily on three characters, Jesus, Martha, and Mary. But Jesus wasn’t traveling alone. It is likely that at a minimum the twelve disciples were with Jesus and probably quite a few more people. It would have been customary to welcome everyone who traveled with Jesus. So when v. 40 talks about Martha making preparations, it means she had a house full of people and the culture expected her to treat them all like honored guests. That means there was lots to do. Except that Jesus wasn’t your everyday traveler and Martha knew that. Nevertheless, she allowed something good, being a hostess, to overshadow what was better, being present with Jesus. I’m guessing that it’s not because she didn’t want to but because she couldn’t find the time to be fully present with Jesus given all her other self-imposed and/or culture-imposed obligations. This is probably part of the frustration she displays in her question to Jesus. It’s unlikely that she was jealous that Mary got to be present with Jesus and she didn’t. It’s more likely that she was thinking that if Mary helped out, then they would both have the opportunity to be present with Jesus. That’s not unreasonable is it? Perhaps, but it sure sounds like a familiar excuse I’ve made myself—“Once I get this very important stuff done then my schedule will finally be clear to spend time with God.” Except you know as well as I do that we never seem to get done with the “very important stuff” of life. So “time with God” rarely or never happens. Jesus knew that being in relationship with Him wouldn’t come natural for people. It requires intentionality and focus. Exactly what Martha was missing in v. 40 when it says she was “distracted.”

            The Greek word for “distracted” is perispao and it is a New Testament hapax legomenon. Meaning it occurs only here in the New Testament. When translating from the original text, these words are particularly important. Perispao “indicates ‘being pulled away’ by something, and can refer not only to distraction but also to being overburdened with an affair. The remark characterizes both Martha’s response and her failure. Her activity has influenced and skewed her perspective. Perhaps she tried to listen to Jesus, but could not because of her work. She is confident that if Jesus speaks to Mary he can convince her delinquent sister to help. [Luke] indicates that her agitation is misguided and her perspective is improper. She is too busy for him, even though she is doing a good thing.”[3] Do you ever wonder how things might have been different if Martha had gone to Jesus and instead asked, “I know there’s lots to do but would it be alright if I just sat here and listened to you until you’re done teaching?” Do you think everything would have gotten done? It’s hard to say for sure because that didn’t happen but you might recall another incident where, at the last minute, Jesus managed to feed more than five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. I’m pretty sure He could have handled the couple dozen visitors to Martha’s house. It might have been a missed opportunity to witness Jesus’ majesty on display once again. But you don’t have to miss the opportunity like maybe Martha did. If you want to know what might have happened, try it in your own life. Next time, you are “distracted” by the “very important stuff” in your life, why don’t you try going to Jesus and say, “I know there’s lots to do but would it be alright if I just sat with you for a while?” See what He says to your heart. You might pave the way for Jesus to display His majesty in your life.

41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

            Jesus responds to Martha in vv. 41-42. He’s not angry with her, but her perspective has been distorted and now she is “worried and upset” and Jesus has to realign her priorities. Martha wanted to honor her guests by providing for their needs. But she has clearly taken it too far and she’s attempting to suck Mary, and Jesus for that matter, into her distorted perspective of “very important stuff.” I want you to pay special attention to something Jesus did not say. Jesus did say, “Only one thing is need.” Jesus did not say, “Only one more thing is needed.” Mary was focused on one thing. Martha was distracted by one more thing. Jesus has always required unwavering devotion to Him alone. It has been the practice of humanity to add one more thing. We claim devotion to Jesus and then add one more thing from our list of “very important stuff.” We begin with our devotion to Jesus and then we add a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a husband or wife, and family commitments, and school requirements, and career aspirations, and neighbors, and friends, and a ministry, until eventually we’ve filled up our lives with “very important stuff” but no space or time to sit at the feet of Jesus. “Jesus did not blame Martha for being concerned about preparing the meal, nor did he scold her for attempting to make him and his disciples welcome. But he did want her to understand that because she was so upset, she was not making time for what was most important, shown in Mary’s attitude. Jesus wanted Martha to rearrange her priorities. It is possible for service to Christ to degenerate into mere busywork that is no longer full devotion to God. There was nothing wrong with Martha’s desire to serve…Perhaps she could have laid out a less lavish feast so she too could have had time to sit at Jesus’ feet and digest his teaching. But Jesus was not going to send Mary away to attend to housework. She had chosen to be a Jesus’ feet, and Jesus knew that he would not be on this earth forever. His time would be short, and he would not send away those who wanted to listen and learn.”[4]

Application

            I know what some of you are thinking, “It’s easy for you, you’re a pastor. You get paid to spend time with God. It’s your job. You don’t know my life.” You’re right, I don’t know all of your lives. But I know some of you. You’re a single mom who works full time and you’re going to school full-time so you can get a better job to take care or your two little kids by yourself because their daddy is in jail. You’re a corporate executive who works 80 hours a week and travel to a different city every other week. Your wife and kids clamor for every spare minute of your time and you barely get to enjoy that new boat and you haven’t spent any time at the cabin you waited so long to buy. You’re the dad who’s been unemployed for a year now and you spend all your 16 hours a day going from one business to the next asking for any opportunity to work. During whatever free time you might have, you collect aluminum cans from the dumpsters behind the local restaurants and rummage through the landfill for anything you might be able to sell at the street market. You’re a stay-at-home mom who home-schools her four children and transports them each to their individual extra-curricular activities. Then once you’ve dropped them off. You rush out to lead a women’s Bible study or lead the church choir or bring a hot meal to a sick church member. And then once you’ve gather up all your kids again it’s back to get dinner going and then it’s time to get the kids ready for bed. And, you have a husband as well! You’re right, I don’t know all of you but I know some of you. So let me just clarify. Yes I am a pastor but it’s not my job and I don’t get paid for it. And it might come as a surprise but it’s just as hard for me to make time to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn as it is for you. In fact, it might be harder for pastors than anyone else because we can hide behind church business and Christian service. But church duties and serving others can never take the place of spending time with Jesus. Let me try to explain something to you. Doing church stuff and serving others does not create relationship with Jesus. Relationship with Jesus nurtures a vibrant church community and motivates service to others. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, service and devotion will always go hand in hand. However, we must always guard against the tendency to replace devotion to Jesus with service to others. We’re really good at doing and usually pretty bad at being.

            “The story of Mary and Martha speaks in a timely way to an increasingly phrenetic (sp) and frantic society. Jesus points Martha—and all of us who are so very much like Martha—to the core necessity of life. If we possess this one thing, it gives life to all that we do; if we lack it, we cannot compensate for that lack no matter how much we do. The one needful thing is to sit at Jesus’ feet, spend time in his presence undistracted and listen for his word. This is a hard word for many people, myself included, to accept. It is a hard word to believe in an active society where doing and visibly achieving are emphasized so strongly. But if anything must suffer this day, Luke says that it cannot be our spending time with God. We have books to read, committee meetings to attend and leaves to rake, but first and above all, we have to sit at Jesus’ feet, wait on the Lord and seek God’s face…

From a worldly point of view to ‘wait’ on the Lord when there is work to be done seems like procrastination or worse. Jesus’ challenge to Martha and to all who resemble her more than her sister is to reverse that mindset and to let the way we spend our time help us to be guided in all things by God’s Spirit, not driven in all things by the demands of our studies, our congregations or our own ambitions.

            Luke speaks not only to religious professionals but to everyone who would make progress in discipleship, to everyone who seeks to leave behind old pains and the patterns they have engraved on their mind and heart. Inner healing, formation in the image of Jesus, growth in discipleship: all depend on spending time in God’s presence, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Ultimately, that is the place where lives are reordered, hearts healed, balance attained and stability found. Our hearts will never find rest until they rest in God, and rest means spending time resting in God’s presence.”[5] For me, and maybe for you too, one of the things engraved on my mind and heart are the words that are so familiar: “Don’t just stand there, do something!” But this is not the way of Jesus. This is the way of the world; the way of the culture. Jesus wants something different for me and for you. Jesus wants us to reverse that mindset. Instead, Jesus is saying, “Don’t just do something—sit there!



[1] John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34—Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993), p. 603.
[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 218.
[3] Darrekk L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53—Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), p. 1041.
[4] Bruce Barton, Philip Comfort, Grant Osborne, Linda K. Taylor, and Dave Veerman, Life Application New Testament Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), p. 301.
[5] David A. deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), pp. 346-347.