A Colossal Waste of Time and Energy

They came. They ate. They listened to the music, and they left a mess behind them. That’s my slightly grumpy report on the 2019 Widows Luncheon at my church. Hosted by the deacons, this event is an annual thing, gathering several dozen widows and about 20 deacons and their wives. We feed these ladies, provide moderate-quality musical entertainment, and then clean up after them. That, all in all, is the colossal waste of time and energy–not to mention resources and talent.

Honestly, what benefit is there in this production. The deacons are asked to toss money into the till to cover much of the cost. We give up a high-quality spring Sunday afternoon. We make awkward small talk with women that, in many cases, we’ve never met before. And what do we have to show for it at the end of the day?

“Is there going to be a program?” one lady asked me when I finally stole a moment to eat a bowl of soup.

“Yes!” I wanted to say. “Don’t we always have a program?”

“You should do a dinner next year,” another woman said. Really? Then we’d have to run a taxi service for all those ladies who don’t drive after dark. And it would cost more, because she was thinking of more substantial food.

Apparently somebody told a lady–a friend of mine–that she couldn’t sit at their table. This pushed her over the edge and out the door. I think she drove through Arby’s on the way home.

Is this sort of work really worthwhile? Wouldn’t it make more sense investing ourselves in evangelism or in discipling kids–you know, people who have a longer potential span of ministry ahead of them? Sometimes I think the problem with the church is that we just don’t run it on sound business principles. I’m proposing a cost-benefit analysis on the widows luncheon next year.

But then I pause and reflect for a moment. When, in John 21, Jesus tells Peter to “feed my sheep,” I notice that there aren’t a lot of conditions or modifiers attached to that directive. He doesn’t say

  • Feed them if there’s a profit in it.
  • Feed them if they’re nice to you.
  • Feed them if it makes sense to you.
  • Feed them if it fits into your strategic goals and enterprise objectives.

No, he just says, “Feed my sheep.” So that’s what we did yesterday afternoon. That’s what we’ll do next year, I’m sure.

And in reality, most of the ladies were polite and appreciative. The work was light and shared by many hands. The time invested was redeemed when I got to play with my granddaughter during the evening, and the twenty dollars I put in the hopper didn’t keep me from driving through Arby’s on the way home.

When I started writing this, I didn’t intend to bring it back to Matthew 6:33, but there it is again. When we seek God’s kingdom, even when the means of seeking seems pointless, good will flow out of it and all of our needs will be added to us as well.

A young man unjustly murdered on a Roman cross. That would seem an even more colossal waste, but it seems God made something out it. Who am I to hold back my efforts?


What’s It To You?

Am I a terrible person because one of the highlights of my week comes after I return my grandkids to their mother’s house early on Sunday afternoon. It’s not that I don’t love the daylights out of them and not that I don’t enjoy their company a good bit of the time. What drives me bonkers is the way that they pick at each other.

One of them specifically has moved into a season of life when he seems to love nothing more than to point out his brothers’ flaws. This Sunday, he exploded when one brother dropped a loose piece of trash on the floor at the church. Then a few minutes later, he was laying into his other brother over some hyper-important detail of a video game.

Although this sort of thing makes me a little bit crazy, I have to note that the behavior is not unique to a preteen boy in Kansas City. Almost universally, people do a better job of seeing the issues with others than they do with seeing their own.

This morning, I was reading over John 21, when I noticed the curious piece at the chapter’s and book’s end. After going through the whole “do you love me?” exchange with Jesus, Peter looks over his shoulder and spies John. “What about him?” he asks.

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”
“If I want him to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”–John 21:21-22

“What is that to you?” That could be the most significant question that Jesus ever asks. In fact, in John’s account of things, these are the last recorded words of Jesus before His resurrection. It’s not that John didn’t think that Jesus spoke the Great Commission and related things just before He ascended–after all, John was there–but for his gospel, these are the words that John elected for a closer.

And what profound words they are. Essentially Jesus is asking, “Why are you concerned about his fate? Just follow me.” Let’s apply this to today:

  • Why do you care if your brother drops a piece of paper? You follow me!
  • Why do you care if your brother is wrong about a video game? You follow me!
  • Why do you care if this sister has more talent than you? You follow me!
  • Why do you care if that brother doesn’t stick to his diet? You follow me!

Obviously, Jesus wasn’t calling Peter to apathy. After all, he’d just told Peter to feed the sheep several times. What he was calling Peter to do was set aside that very human tendency toward jealousy and comparison.

Following Jesus, we’ll need to keep our eyes on Him. If we also feed and care for the sheep, then any spare attention we have has just been claimed. If I dedicate myself to those endeavors, the opportunity to covet and compare almost totally disappears.

As for you, follow me. Indeed.


The Executioners Are Coming–John 21:18

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”–John 21:18

John gospel iconDo you want to get older? Do you want your body to decline in all its powers? Nobody does. Getting older is something that, especially in our society, we fight against. Older people don’t have the cachet of wisdom that they do in some more traditional cultures, and if you don’t gain respect for wisdom (or don’t gain wisdom itself) as you age, then I’m not sure what you have to look forward to.

All you have to do is watch sports to realize that physical activity is a young person’s game. Baseball players tend to living on borrowed time at 40. Most football players do well to make it into the mid-30s. Gymnasts, especially female gymnasts, are pretty well washed up by 20.

Of course we will see people with good genes and good habits who can achieve great things as they age. I went to Israel with a man who, at over 70, grew impatient when our tour guide would not allow him to walk up the trail to Masada. Gene bolted from the group at the top of the hill and walked down. At the bottom, he had plenty of energy to do a human flag on post at the bottom.  A few years after that trip, Gene was diagnosed with cancer. He declined very quickly and died having accomplished a great deal and living a rich life.

The lesson is that we all will wind up like Peter in the verse above. Jesus explained to Peter that he would decline in both his physical powers and his independence. In that particular case, Peter would be led away by executioners. But then we’re all being slowly led away by executioners, whether they be Roman guards, cancer cells, atrophying heart muscle, or general wear and tear. Our executioners might be internal or external, near or far, but they are coming.

But look at what Jesus had to say about those executioners. He didn’t say “panic” or “run.” He had just finished telling Peter to “feed my sheep.” I don’t know when or how I will die, but I will, unless Christ returns, surely die. The executioners are already on their way. The only question for me to answer is how I live between now and then.Will I do my best to keep the executioners at bay or will I hurry them along? Will I feed the sheep or will I feed myself?

You Have to Eat Calories to Burn Calories?

Whole Grain BreadsAn article at Wise Bread offers “The 7 Most Calorie-Burning Breakfasts.” First of all, do foods actually burn calories? That seems dubious. And then there’s this whole idea of “The 7 Most…” Did our intrepid author really consider every possible combination of foods and somehow test them to discover that these were indeed the 7 best?

But perhaps I’m too harsh. Reading over these, at around 8:30 in the evening, I’m actually thinking about heading to bed early so that I can get up sooner and eat breakfast. Here’s how the writer sells oatmeal with cinnamon and walnuts:

High-fiber foods like oatmeal have been shown in studies to help people lose weight. Whole grains help you stay full for longer, leading you to eat less. They help eliminate waste in your body, and they are harder to break down, so your body burns more calories to process them.

Makes you hungry, doesn’t it? As much as I’d like to think He served biscuits and gravy, in John 21:12, when the resurrected Jesus said “Come and have breakfast,” I’m fairly certain He was serving something off of this list.