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Urgent or Important

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Do you know what one of my favorite days of the year is? It's that day in the fall when we get to turn our clocks back one hour due to the change from Daylight Saving Time. Depending on your tendencies, it gives that annual gift of an extra hour to either sleep or stay awake. Since fall, with the end of the vacation season and the beginning of the school year, is one of the most hectic times of the year, that extra hour always seems bigger than it really is.

     To be honest, that extra hour has never really made any significant difference in my life. But what if we could add an hour to every day? Or, better yet, what if we could add four or five hours to every day? Would our lives be more productive or more relaxed if we had 20% more time in a day? Maybe, but the likelihood is that we would still be as stressed out and frustrated by our schedules as we are now. Just as your living expenses always manage to rise to meet your income, so your "time sinks" and responsibilities always seem to expand to fill your Day-Timer. So, if more hours in a day isn't the answer, then what is? Is there any way out of these stress-filled lifestyles?

     Let's stop and analyze this statement: "There are not enough hours in the day..." If that's really the case, then who should we blame for our frustration and anxiety? The only answer could be God since He's the one who created our days and who numbers our years. But we can't blame God - He has given us the perfect amount of time to do all that He's asked us to do. Well, then what's the alternative? It can only be that we are spending our time on a lot of things that He hasn't asked us to do!

     Many years ago Charles Hummel wrote, "Several years ago an experienced cotton-mill manager said to me, 'Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.' We live in the constant tension between the urgent and the important. The problem is that the important task rarely must be done today or even this week. Extra hours of prayer and Bible study, a visit with that non-Christian friend, careful study of an important book: these projects can wait. But the urgent tasks call for instant action - endless demands pressure every hour and day." It all comes down to priorities, and it takes wisdom from above to be able to say "yes" to the things that God asks us to do with our time and to say "no" to those things (some of them very good things) that He hasn't asked us to do.

     The key to discerning between the urgent and the important is in creating what I call "holy spaces" in your life. These are the times that God has commanded you to have, where you truly rest - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And these are the times where you enter into life's most crucial activity - "waiting on the Lord." It is through being quiet before Him, reading His Word, and praying to Him that you get your direction from God about what is really important in your schedule. You must have "holy space" every day and you need the "holy day" (the Lord's Day) every week in order to re-align your priorities and to receive your marching orders. If you squeeze those holy spaces out of your life then you can expect to wander astray from God's will and to get stressed out in the process.

     Jesus said to the Father near the end of His earthly ministry, "I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do." Could you end any day of your life by confidently asserting to God, "I have completed everything You gave me to do today?" How much less could any of us say that about our entire lives?! The difference is that Jesus knew what He was called to do, the difference between the urgent and the important. And here lies the key to deliverance from our frazzled lifestyles.

     "The length of our days is seventy years - or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away...Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  Psalm 90:10, 12

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Gleaning and Mercy Ministry

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  ASK THE PASTOR BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Question: “Regarding methods of caring for the poor, what is the modern equivalent of letting your field go fallow every seven years, as the Old Testament commands? Or, leaving the corners of your field for the poor to harvest?”

     Answer: In order to translate these practices into a modern context, we have to discern the principles that underlie the Sabbath years and gleaning practices...

     The first principle illustrated by Sabbath years and gleaning is that the Covenant community has a primary responsibility before God to ensure that there are no needy persons among us (Acts 4:32-35). Israel was the Old Covenant church, and the provision of Sabbath years and gleaning were primarily for the poor and needy Israelites, although they were also to care for the alien and sojourner. As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

     The second principle is that the primary responsibility for caring for the poor is on the family. When Ruth was sent by Naomi to glean from a field, she was sent to the field of her relative, Boaz. As Paul tells Timothy, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8).

     A third principle is that private individuals and institutions have the responsibility to care for the poor, not the government. The family, church, and local organizations are far more efficient and personal, and they are able to provide accountability. And the government will not address their infinitely more important spiritual needs.

     A fourth principle is that the poor and needy should expect to work for their benefits, as they are able. The landowners and farmers didn’t tie up the grain in bundles and carry them to the front doorstep of the poor people. The Bible condemns laziness and “sluggards,” and promotes work as essential to our dignity as humans made in His image. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The goal of mercy ministry should be more than meeting the temporary needs of the poor; it should be to restore them to usefulness in society. It’s not that “handouts” are always wrong. The Old Testament Law did provide for gifts for the poor, but the Bible challenges us to consider the more long-term needs of the poor (i.e., teaching them how to fish instead of handing them a fish). 

     A fifth principle is that we should provide for mercy in our work and budget plans. Landowners were not to maximize their profits from their land and crops, but they were to provide unharvested crops for the poor to glean. 

     What would this type of charity look like in our cultural context? It’s not easy for individuals and families to provide resources for the poor in response to labor and progress toward usefulness (most believers in Biblical times didn’t have the means to do this either), although some people have their own businesses or other means to provide in that way. Certainly, we should all budget for mercy ministry, instead of our typical practice of overspending our budget on our own wants and needs. But there are many examples of this kind of “gleaning” aid by Christian churches and organizations, where the poor are expected to participate in chores, life-skills training, Bible study, etc. in order to receive food, housing, and other provisions for their needs.

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