Persistence of Memory 2
May 6, 2001
Years ago when someone asked you, “How are you doing?” the typical response was, “Fine.” In our contemporary culture, though, that response doesn’t do it anymore. It’s not relevant. In today’s world, when someone says, “How are you doing?” what is your typical response? You know it before I say it. It’s not “Fine,” it’s “Busy.” I’m busy, busy, maxed out, calendars crammed with stuff. That’s the mantra of the day. I’m just busy. What has happened to fine? Why has “fine” morphed into “I’m busy.” I’ll tell you why, and I am guilty of saying that just as you are. We say I am busy because now we wear busyness as a badge of honor. We say I am busy to say I am important. I matter. I’m somebody. I don’t think we are busier today than we were years ago. I do think that we are more transparent when we say “I am maxed out. I’m jammed.”
Jesus Christ had a courtside seat to a catfight as he watched a couple of sisters battle against this nemesis called busyness and time management. I am in the second part of a two-part talk that I have been doing on the whole issue of time. It’s based on Salvador Dali’s painting entitled, “Persistence of Memory.” It’s a self-portrait. Dali is basically saying that man for the most part has squandered God’s gift of time. That brings us to the text today. That brings us to what Jesus saw. That brings us to a couple of sisters in A.D. 31 who battled busyness. We are going to find out today the same strategies and the same agenda that these two ladies used to fight busyness in A.D. 31 are the same strategies and agendas that most of us apply when we battle busyness in 2001. Let’s listen and see what happened.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Luke, Chapter ten. I will begin reading with verse 38. If you don’t, follow along with the convenient view a verse on the side screens. It’s great to bring your Bible. You don’t go to an athletic contest or concert without a program, so here we go. Luke 10:38: “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village.” Right quick, this village was a village called Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem. To put a time table on it, we are talking about six months before Christ laid down his life for your sins and mine on the cross and rose again.
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” Now isn’t that cool? Martha, being obedient to texts like 1 Peter 4 and Hebrews 13, Martha was hospitable. She opened her place. The Bible, and you don’t hear very much talk about this these days, the Bible commands hospitality. Whether you have a dorm room, an apartment, a condo or a palatial mansion, you are commanded if you are a Christ-follower, to open your home and to welcome people in. That is what she did.
Verse 39, “She had a sister called Mary.” Now this is not the mother of Jesus, Mary. Mary and Martha were sisters to one of Christ’s best friends, Lazarus. Lazarus was the guy that Christ brought back from the dead and that is a whole other story. “She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said. But 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. Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, You are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.” I think if we are completely transparent, I think if we are completely honest, a lot of us have a bunch of Martha in us. A lot of us have what I call, “Martha Mania,” busy traveling and programming, activity-ing our way into oblivion.
I look at the word “mania.” Mania means “excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior and elevation of mood.” Martha Mania. Do you have it? If you have it, one of the first signs is that you are going to be frustrated. The frustration stage. I think you can feel the frustration in Martha as I read that little account.
Look back at the bottom of verse 40, “She came to him.” Now check this out. She invited Christ into her home. Jesus was teaching. Mary was at his feet. Martha was probably freaking out trying to make another batch of biscuits and have all the preparations perfectly presented in a Martha Stewart type fashion. If we could read the original language, “she came to him” literally means she interrupted him. She got in God’s face. She said, “Jesus, this is totally unfair.” She asked him, “Lord, don’t you care?” Frustration. Whenever you tell someone “Don’t you care?” or “Don’t you love me?” that’s a backhanded way of saying, “You don’t care. You don’t love me.” Whenever I am distracted, whenever my priorities are not in order, I always have a measure, and so do you, of frustration.
Look at the next phase, victimization. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” She is playing the victim. That’s what we do in Martha Mania. We go through the victimization stage. We take our hands, place them behind our back, lean forward and say, “Poor pitiful me. I’m just alone doing all the work, Jesus. They have abandoned me. I’m making biscuits from scratch, Lord. Look at the table decorations. Here’s Mary down there by your feet, lazy, not doing a thing.” She got in God’s face.
Frustration leads to victimization. Then victimization usually segues into, and you will love this one, exaggeration. We get all freaked out, wigged out, and our priorities are not in order, we usually exaggerate. That’s what Martha did. “Lord, you don’t care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me.” That wasn’t exactly true, Martha, come on. Mary had been helping. You were all messed up. Any time you have exaggeration, you have a running buddy with exaggeration, you have blame. We love to blame, don’t we? We get distracted. We go through all those stages, those Martha Maniacs here, and we just blame people. “It’s because of you. It’s you and you and you.” It’s much easier to blame and complain than to face the music.
When we are distracted and we know our priorities are out of order, when we know we have dissed God, and not spent the time we should listening to him, we most of the time point the finger of blame instead of saying, “You know, I am wrong. My values are out of order.” What did Jesus do when he saw this? Did Jesus slam-dunk her? Did he go, “Man, what a joke, Martha. You’re pathetic.” If I had been God, I might have done that. You probably would have too. He didn’t. Isn’t it great that we are not God? He gave her a measure of grace, a monster load of grace. Verse 41, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you are worried.” The word “worried” here means anxious, overly concerned. “You are worried and upset.” The word “upset” here comes from the word “tumult.” We get tumultuous from it. Whenever you are worried, whenever I am worried, and worry means to strangle, whenever we are anxious, it leads to being upset. It leads to a tumultuous life. Worry is like a snowball. We begin to worry about one thing and it collects more stuff and, all of a sudden, we are rolling down a hill and we are in trouble. The Lord said, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.” Martha Mania.
The Bible said that Martha was distracted. Did you remember that? This word “distracted,” to give you a quick Greek lesson, is in the imperfect tense. Literally, it means she kept on being distracted. It wasn’t just a one-time distraction. She kept on being distracted. I think in this day and age, we can all deal with that, we can relate to that. We can say, “I’ve done the Martha Mania thing and I’ve gone through all these stages, and I need some help.” If you need some help, we all need help. I need help. Let’s see how we can morph Martha Mania into becoming Very Mary. God wants us to become Very Mary. He wants us to have a handle on our priorities, a handle on time management. He wants us to win the battle of busyness. He does not want us to be a casualty. He wants us to emerge victorious. We can. We really can.
Here’s what we have to do, a couple of things. If you have a pen or a pencil, you might want to jot these down. Do you remember the word “grace” that I said earlier? I said that Jesus gave Martha a measure of grace. We must do this if we are to become Very Mary. We must taste the grace of silence. (Long pause of silence) That was only ten seconds of silence. I always get kind of freaky when we are silent. I love what author, David Brooks, wrote. He said, “Here is how I am going to get rich.” He was talking about the whole digital, techno age. He said, “I am going to design a placebo machine. It will be a little gadget with voice recognition and everything. Wireless people will be able to log onto it and it will tell them that they have no messages. After a while, they will get used to having no messages. They will be able to experience life instead of information. They will be able to reflect instead of react. My machine won’t even require batteries.” I thought that was pretty relevant to our day and age. We need to taste the grace of silence, don’t we?
In our talk last week, we discussed Psalm 46. It said, “Be still and know that I am God.” We have got to sit at the feet of Jesus. In verse 39, we talked about Mary. The Bible says she sat at the feet of Jesus. This phrase, “sat at the feet of Jesus,” is only used this one time in the New Testament. It literally means a pupil sitting at the feet of a teacher. The word “listen” here in the Greek is pronounced “acuo.” We get the word “acoustics” from it. It’s not just to listen or to hear. Acuo is much stronger than that. Acuo means to listen, to comprehend. It means to listen for action, listen for application.
What a posture we need to adopt. We need to become Very Mary. We need to sit at the feet of Jesus regularly as we taste the grace of silence, because Mary listened. She didn’t talk. That’s the posture we must adopt if we are going to move from hyperactivity and over-scheduling into balance and into peace and into the kind of life that Christ wants us to live. Every time you read about Mary of Bethany, check this out, she was always at the feet of Jesus. In this text, at the feet of Jesus. John, chapter 11, at the feet of Jesus pouring costly perfume on his feet. John, chapter 12, she fell at the feet of Jesus after the death of Lazarus. What a place. I hope when people describe you and me, they say, “They are people at the feet of Jesus.” We have got to taste the grace of silence. We have got to listen to the Lord.
How do you listen to God? You listen to him by being quiet. You listen to him by reading his word. He has written to us all these words. We listen to him and we must be sensitive to him. But we can’t do it unless we are intentional about it. We can’t do it unless we say, “I’m going to listen to God during this period of time every single day.” So to do that, we have got to get serious about it. The evil one is not going to sit back and say, “Okay, I’ll just go ahead and let you listen to God.” He is going to fight you and me, battle you and me with busyness because he knows if we listen to God, all heaven will break loose in our lives.
What do we do? We have got to establish a consistent time to listen to God. Take out your palm pilot, your calendar, whatever you write on and say, “I am going to listen to God during this time of the day.” What is the best time for you? It could be morning, afternoon, coffee break, lunch, I don’t know. Find the time where you are hitting on all cylinders and that is when you listen to God. Turn off the technology. Unplug. Get quiet. Be still and do that.
I have a friend of mine who last week was sharing with me how he listens to God and how he prays. He says, “Every night I walk around my neighborhood by myself just talking to God and listening. Last week, I stepped on two snakes while I was praying and listening to God.” I told you Satan doesn’t want you to do it. I’m not joking. He did. Water moccasin or some other unknown snake that the Crocodile Hunter I’m sure will one day apprehend.
Do you have that time? Or do you just say, “Well, you know, I just think it will kind of happen.” No, it won’t. Also, establish a consistent place. Where is that place where you listen to God? When you establish a place, that ground will become holy ground, special ground. It could be in your den. If your house has a little study, you can use that. It could be at the office. It could be a number of places. Establish a place.
Also, establish a consistent strategy. Don’t just say, “I’m just going to kind of listen to God and I have got this time and place down.” Establish a strategy. We have a number of new believers here. You are brand new Christians. You are running around in diapers going, “How do I listen to God? How do I talk to him in prayer?” Take a chapter of the Bible, for example, Psalm 139, and Psalm 139 specifically tells you who you are in Christ. It tells you how much you matter to God. I would take this Psalm, new believer, and I would read it prayerfully for like a month. I think it is great, too, to read it while you are on your knees. It goes like this, “Oh, Lord, you searched me and know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down. You are familiar with all of my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, oh Lord.” Do that. At the end of it just say, “God, what is this saying to me? How can this help me? Show me how I can apply it to my life. I want to sit at your feet and actively listen. I want to ‘acuo’ like Mary did.” Things will happen.
Maybe you are a believer with a number of years under your belt. Maybe you are a mature follower of Christ. Maybe you could go to the book of Romans. Study that. Read that. Listen to God, line upon line, precept upon precept. Then also, I am going to tell you as you know I always do, to pick up a journal and to journal your thoughts. When God speaks to you, write it down. When you speak to God, write it down. I’ve never heard God’s voice audibly. “Heh, Ed. Move from Houston to Dallas and start Fellowship Church.” No, I didn’t hear that. But it is a feeling, an affirmation as he spoke to my spirit, through his word, and through many other avenues. We have got to make time to do it.
Jesus made time to do it. If it’s good enough for the Son of God, I think it’s good enough for you and me, don’t you? Read about how many times Jesus drew away to a lonely place. He got at the feet of his father. It’s the Biblical model. God’s way works here. Taste the grace of silence. That’s the way to become Very Mary.
Let’s do something else. After we taste the grace of silence, we have got to taste the pace of simplicity. Taste the grace of silence, then taste the pace of simplicity. A lot of us have got to simplify our lives. Our lives are too complex. We are distracted like Martha. We are pulled in many different directions. We are not sure which way to go. Yet the Bible says we should taste the pace of simplicity.
Here is how you do that. This first suggestion is going to shock you, but just stay with me. Number one, a lot of us have to get some serious life-o-suction. I knew that would go over well here in Dallas/Ft. Worth. Life-o-suction. What do I mean by that? I’ll tell you what I mean. The Bible calls Jesus the great physician. We need to crawl up on the operating table with our calendars in hand and say, “Lord, I have got some serious calendar fat in my life. I want you, God, to suck it out. I have OD’d on activities and options and I have programmed myself to death. I am a single adult, and I don’t know which way to turn. I am not tasting the grace of silence. I’m not tasting the pace of simplicity. I am a married couple. I’m too busy. I’ve got my kids over here and over there. I’m not having a date night. There is no intimacy. I’m a student.” Whatever. We have got to get radical about this and say, “God, have your way with me. Do some life-o-suction.”
Ask God two questions when you are up there on the table. Write these down. Number one, “God, how does my calendar square with your priorities?” Ask God that right before you begin to have that life-o-suction. Here is the second question. “God, I want to rely on your power to do life-o-suction. So, Lord, you show me specifically what areas I need to take care of by your grace and power. What areas you need to suck out of my life.”
A lot of us have to stop some activities and stop some things we are doing in order to get to know God the way he wants to know us. You see, when we begin to taste the grace of silence, here is what happens. God will begin to multiply your time and mine. When we begin to taste the pace of simplicity, in every venue of our life, we will begin to have a lot of time for the most important things and we won’t get caught in all that superfluous activities and stuff that just wastes our lives. So get some serious life-o-suction.
This past Wednesday, I was studying for the message, and I was looking outside my office window. I watched hundreds of junior high kids walk from the Apex area all the way to the volleyball courts. I said to myself, “Yeah, God. Isn’t that incredible?” I thought about their parents who have their priorities right, who have their kids up here for age appropriate teaching. I just thank God for it. Then I thought about all the hundreds of junior high kids who are not up here. I thought about their parents who obviously don’t understand God’s priorities. I don’t get it, parents. I don’t get how we can sign our kids up for all these select activities and all these programs and stuff at the expense of the local church. I don’t get that, because only two things will last forever, people and the church. We must invest our lives unashamedly in those two areas. So, I challenge you, parents, singles, I challenge you to build your social life, your emotional life, and obviously your spiritual life around the base called the local church. I command you to do it based on God’s word. God tells you to do it. Don’t let anything keep you from God’s church, from weekend worship, from First Wednesday, from being in a small group for ministry, don’t let anything keep you from that. If it does, you are too busy. Don’t let a Mavericks game, good or bad weather, the race, this or that keep you from God’s house.
I’ve known a lot of people in my life. I’ve known a lot of people well in the context of church and, invariably, when they miss a weekend; it is always that they miss a message that they need the most to hear. It is the same with you. Almost every weekend, I will see someone who goes, “Ed, I almost didn’t show up today at Fellowship. I had two tickets for this or for playing golf.” Then they will say, and I can almost fill in the blank with them, “but I am glad I did. I needed that.” They will talk about the drama. They will talk about the songs, teaching, whatever. Something supernatural takes place when we open God’s word. We’ve got to simplify and taste the pace of simplicity.
Here is what Richard Foster said about the whole thing concerning simplicity. Foster said, “Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.” God wants simplicity for you and me. He wants freedom. Too many of us don’t know we are in bondage. We are in bondage to the way we look, in bondage to our zip code, our cars, in bondage to all this stuff. God wants freedom. Get some serious life-o-suction.
Also do this if you want to get simple now. You have got to watch for the eclipse. There is always the eclipse taking place, and Satan is going to make sure it is working for you and me. Here is what will happen. The evil one will put the good in front of us and he wants the good to eclipse the best. He wants us to get so involved in Martha Mania that we miss Jesus. What was Martha doing? She was entertaining and she set a table for everyone else. But she forgot to set a place for Jesus, didn’t she? How many times in my life have I set a table for everybody else, but I forgot to set a place for Jesus. That’s a temptation for me. I spend thirty hours a week in the study of God’s word and I am doing it for me but, more than that, I’m really doing it for you. If I am not careful, I can get so busy in the business of God that I miss God, and I can’t do that. There is a temptation out there. That’s why simplification is so profound.
Jesus said in Luke 10:42, “Only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” What’s the one thing? Well, it’s the Matthew 6:33 one thing, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Some of us cannot seek the kingdom of God first, because we are seeking everything else first. We take this verse like Matthew 6:33 and play a game. I call it “reverse the verse.” We say, “God, add all these things to me. Add this. Add that. And then I will seek you.” We can’t play that game. We have got to say, “God, I want to seek you first.” When we seek him first, when we are not distracted, when we sit at his feet, that is when our lives will really move. We have got to watch for the food eclipsing the best. Too many of us are majoring on the good stuff and it’s not the best stuff. All these activities that we are involved in, they are good. I am all for sports and extracurricular activities and programs, but once they begin to eclipse the best, we are messing up.
So, what do we do about it? We have just got to learn how to say, “No,” and learn how to say, “Yes” with no excuses. Jesus said this in Matthew 5:37, “Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything beyond that comes from the evil one.” Do you find yourself saying no and giving this long excuse? Just say yes and no.
Author, Tim Kimmel, in his book, “Little House on the Freeway,” gives a great illustration about time management. Don’t you love that title? Kimmel said that on his desk he has several pictures. He says that the first picture he has is a picture of him when he was just born, a couple of days old. The second picture he has is of his spouse. The third picture, a child, fourth picture, a child, fifth picture, a child. Then the last picture is a place where he will be buried, like his site where he will be six feet under. Those pictures remind him of his priorities, how life is short, how people matter to God, and how he should invest his time in that.
I think that is good, but I think he should add some more pictures. I think he should add maybe a picture of his career where he works. Work is worship. It should be on down the line past your kids, but I think it is an element. I think also the local church should be in there. That’s huge. Two things that will last forever, people and church. We need to invest our time, money and energy into people who are going there and that’s the local church. So I think it’s a good thing to do. Maybe it’s a good suggestion for you or me to put somewhere prominently something like that to show us that we are here for fifty to ninety years, if we eat healthy, and then it’s eternity. All of us will live forever in one of two places. We have got to make that time count because what we do on this side affects the other.
Well, hopefully, a lot of us are beginning to do the work and we are moving from being Martha Maniacs into becoming Very Mary. Here is the great news. Martha changed. Isn’t that good? She changed. Martha didn’t just stay in that maniac state. She didn’t just stay wigged out, freaked out. She didn’t just stay trying to do the Martha Stewart thing. She changed. In John, chapter 12, she threw another party, another meal for Jesus, his disciples, other people, and she did not complain. She did not do the victim thing. She did not exaggerate. She was not frustrated. She was changed by the grace of God.
We can change too as God gives us the power to become Very Mary.