Busyness is not the Same as Godliness

Last weekend, my family’s plans fell through because of some unexpected circumstances. We had a whole day’s events scheduled, and none of it ended up happening.

After our plans were canceled, the cashier at the grocery store asked me what I had planned for the day, and I responded honestly: “Nothing.” He responded by saying he had detailed plans to paint with oil on canvas while listening to classical music. It was a funny exchange, so I posted it to Facebook.

After I posted the anecdote, a few friends commented about how “nice” and “relaxing” it must have been to have nothing to do. (Granted, with three kids, we never actually have nothing to do. We just had nothing planned).

Here’s where things get uncomfortably honest: For some strange reason, I felt the need to defend my unstructured and unscheduled day. Correctly or not, I perceived a subtext in those comments. “Gee, it must be nice to have a day with nothing planned. The rest of us have important stuff to do, you lazy slacker.”

The whole thing reminded me of a Cadillac commercial that played during the Olympics, in which a well-dressed actor explains why workaholism is one of the cornerstones of the American value system.

It suddenly hit me that I define myself, at least partly, by how busy I am and how much stuff I get done. Perhaps you can relate. Ask yourself how you responded the last time somebody said, “How are you doing?” It doesn’t take a psychic to guess that most of you reading this included the word “busy” in your answer.

Why do we feel such a compulsion to prove that we’re busy all the time? For that matter, why are we so busy all the time? Why do we fill our schedules to the point of inducing panic attacks?

Here’s why: We Americans measure our worth in terms of what we get done. 

Strangely, being “busy” is not listed among the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It doesn’t say, “Love, joy, peace, busyness, frenetic activity, living in CrazyTown, etc.”

I’ve often wondered why one of God’s first and most important commandments to Israel was to take a Sabbath, a day off from work. For that matter, why did God insist that the people observe a sabbatical year, in which they refrained from working the fields? It’s astounding, as if God just expected them to trust Him to meet their needs!

Now don’t get me wrong here: They still worked six days of every week. People are made to work. We need to work in order to reflect God’s character. He brought order from chaos, and created structure for our world and our lives. When we work, we reflect Him on a small scale. Laziness is no better than workaholism.

But we’re also made to rest. And I think we’re often afraid to rest, because we’re afraid people will think we’re just lazy.

Resting, though, reminds us that God is in control. Resting reminds us that God keeps working, even when we stop. It reminds us that He can provide for us, even if we sit down for a few minutes. 

All that to say, let’s avoid the trap of thinking that busyness is equivalent to godliness. God doesn’t love you any less if your Saturday plans consist of “nothing.” To the contrary, when we rest, we have the opportunity to think about God’s character, to worship Him, and to trust Him to provide for all of our needs. So a day off is nothing to be embarrassed about after all.

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Reflecting on the Legacy of Rich Mullins

I first encountered the music of Rich Mullins as a kid, when my younger brother got a tape of his album Pictures in the Sky. Although I wasn’t initially drawn toward Mullins’ musical style, I — like many — took notice when “Awesome God” became a smash hit.

However, it wasn’t until the release of The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume 2 that I became a real fan. “Sometimes by Step” was a beautifully written song about faith in the midst of struggle and doubt. I connected with that song and that album deeply. The release of A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band was the clincher for me: from that point on, Rich Mullins was far and away my favorite musician. I attended his concerts, bought everything he released, and even purchased his music videos.

When I had a chance to coordinate and promote a Christian concert during my sophomore year at A&M, I knew immediately that we had to bring Rich to our campus. That’s how, in April 1996, this star-struck kid found himself riding in Mullins’ Jeep, on our way to eat together at The Black-Eyed Pea. We ate with a group of roughly 15 students. During the few hours we spent together, I found that his personality off-stage was essentially what I had seen on-stage. First, he was friendly. He went around the table and asked every one of us about our studies, our home towns, and our favorite music. Second, he had an offbeat but charming sense of humor. To be honest, he told some mildly off-color jokes. He seemed to enjoy lightly teasing and shocking our religious sensibilities. Third, he was as talented from up close as he was from far away. I stood in the wings of the stage that night and watched in awe as he played the piano, guitar, and hammered dulcimer with near virtuoso skill. At times, his fellow musician Mitch McVicker stood off-stage, and he was clearly just as surprised and in awe as I was. The depth of his songs, the power of his preaching, and the skill of his playing were simply unmatched in Christian music.

I’m still unaware of any Christian musician who writes or plays like Rich did. I’m also unaware of any Christian musician who better captured in song the “reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.” When I listen to his music, I feel like I’m getting a small glimpse behind the veil of God’s love and power. It’s as if Rich knew something about God that I don’t, and was kind enough to let me in on it for the duration of a 3-5 minute song.

I provide all of this background as context for my evaluation of the new movie Ragamuffin, based on Rich’s life. (In case you don’t know, Rich Mullins died in a car wreck in 1997, at the age of 41). The film is currently being screened at churches and small venues across the country.

It’s clear the filmmakers had a single underlying goal, to demonstrate how radically the unconditional love of God transformed Rich Mullins. They were also determined to show that God can use broken vessels. Rich’s father is portrayed as a difficult man, a farmer who worked hard but struggled to express tenderness and love to his children. Because of this deficiency and other early rejections in his life, Rich struggled throughout his life with loneliness, anger, and even alcoholism. Despite those struggles — and in part because of them — he wrote unbelievably powerful songs that changed lives like mine.

Here’s what the film does well: Rich is portrayed as an ordinary guy who was effective primarily because of God’s hand on his life. None of his sins or struggles diminished the very real presence of God’s Spirit in his music and life. I found myself in tears at one point during the film, when Rich comes to terms with the deficiencies of his earthly father and accepts the unconditional love of his heavenly Father.

Here’s what I think the film did wrong: Rich is often portrayed as a man without grace, kindness or humor. (So is his father, but that’s beyond the scope of this post). If I lacked my previous familiarity with his life and music, I would have walked away with a negative impression of the man. It has taken me a few days to process what I felt and thought during the film, especially since it centered on one of my heroes. However, I think the filmmakers, in an attempt to avoid “sainting” Rich, have erred too far in the other direction. There were a few moments of kindness and light in the film, but they were too few and far between.

There are clearly good reasons why even Rich’s close friends and family consistently talked about him with a sort of reverence, why they followed him across the country and back to play with him and listen to him. He inspired loyalty and trust, and I would have been interested to learn more about exactly why he inspired those feelings in people. There was a depth to his life and writing that the film could have emphasized better.

All that to say, if you are a fan of Rich and his music, this is worth viewing, if only because it provides a different perspective. If you are unfamiliar with him, I’d recommend getting to know him a bit first. Listen to both of his compilation albums (Songs and Songs 2, the titles of which give you a bit of perspective on his sense of humor). Find a copy of Here in America, and watch the concert and interview DVDs. You’ll see a bit of a different man than the one portrayed in the film. Then, if you want to learn a bit more about his struggles and how God prevailed through them, find a screening near you and watch the movie.

Artists and poets like Rich are often quite complex and difficult to understand. The challenge we face is learning to appreciate them for who they are, without canonizing or demonizing them. Watching this movie and thinking about it has been a good exercise for me in learning those skills.

And whatever you do, go buy his albums and listen to them if you want to encounter the love and power of an awesome God.

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Don’t Burn Down Your Marriage

If the tongue is a fire, then the world is filled with arsonists (James 3:6). Perhaps you’ve met them — men and women who seem to grab their flamethrower when they wake up in the morning. They look for villages to burn, and they don’t care if they light themselves on fire in the process.

Perhaps the worst arsonists are those who torch their spouses, taking every opportunity to inflict third degree burns on the person they claim to love the most. 

When my wife and I were newly married, we knew a young man who seemed to relish burning his wife in public. If she said something that he considered unintelligent, his eyes would roll back in his head, his mouth would curl into a sneer, and he would correct her in the most condescending way possible. We watched her face flush with embarrassment, while her eyes turned toward the floor. Over time, she grew quieter, as if she started to believe that she was as stupid as her husband told her she was.

Since then, I’ve seen this pattern time and time again, and not just from angry husbands. Arson is an equal opportunity sport. Some couples live on a battlefield, throwing Molotov cocktails across the dinner table along with the biscuits and gravy. They don’t even notice the burn marks they leave on their children, since they wrongly believe that fire damage can be limited to the intended target.

In premarital counseling, they often say that three issues are at the root of most marital conflicts: money, in-laws, and sex. Over the years, though, I’ve learned that the way people argue is more important than what they argue about. Consistently expressing contempt for your spouse, with your words or your tone, is the quickest way to burn down your marriage.

No matter how hard it seems, try to say something nice. Even when tempers are flaring. Reassure your spouse that your love for them is still intact, even in the middle of the fight. Surely there is some reason you married this person, some small character trait you can affirm. Surely there’s no need to light up your spouse like a Roman candle, especially in the presence of witnesses.

If you find yourself unable to be kind, at least try to be quiet until you can be kind. And pray for the fruit of kindness to permeate your marriage again, through the power of God’s Spirit.

Pray you’ll use your tongue’s fire to create warmth and heat instead of destruction. The wonderful thing about words is that they work both ways. They have the power to heal, as sure as they have the power to destroy. Even today, God can give you the ability to start rebuilding the ruins of your torched marriage. He delights in repairing what is broken, and He’s the only one who can. No man can control the tongue, but the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is able and willing to do what we cannot.

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