Caught in a Balancing Act

given on Sunday, August 30, 2009

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating,

going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it

before God as an offering.  Embracing what God

does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it

without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.

You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

(Romans 12:1-2, THE MESSAGE)

This week one of the latest studies reported concerned multitasking.  I have to tell you that I have personally taken great pride in multitasking, especially since my role at school changed from basic teacher to administrator, clerk, secretary, cook, and dishwasher.  I see no way to get everything done in the day without multitasking.  Still the report surprised me:  people who multitask various multimedia, do not do well with mental tasks.

I had to check into this and found various articles on the recent studies and the one that seemed to sum it up the best was one on the news website, Wired, written by Brandon Keim, on August 24:

“In several benchmark tests of focus, college students who routinely juggle many flows of information, bouncing from e-mail to web text to video to chat to phone calls, fared significantly worse than their low-multitasking peers. …

Other studies have focused on multitasking’s immediate effects — children doing worse on homework while watching television, office workers being more productive when not checking email every five minutes.”

Another article published the same day on Science Daily repeated the results of the study almost word for word.  The emphasis in the articles is what happens to the multitaskers:

“… the researchers realized those heavy media multitaskers are paying a big mental price.  They’re suckers for irrelevancy…Everything distracts them.”

The reports have made me stop and think a bit more about our goals of becoming outwardly focused here at church.  These last several weeks of reviewing our outlook, our spiritual gifts, and our mission may be a bit like multitasking.  We need balance.

When Bishop Schnase introduced his five practices, he encouraged us to return to the basics of church operation:  radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and extravagant giving.  For almost three years across the state Methodists have reevaluated  programs and have rushed to implement improved programs.  In some cases, basically, some churches, especially small membership ones, may have multitasked into an out of balance operation.

For small membership churches, multitasking seems natural since the work of the church must be handled by a few.  How can we find a balance that works?  We should understand what our mission is as a church.  We should be able to identify our strengths and weaknesses.  We should see evidence of the five practices each time we enter the church’s doors or meet another member on the street or in the café.  Are we multitasking to get everything done successfully or has the multitasking caused us to lose our focus?

When Paul was writing his letter to the Romans, the churches were all small membership churches.  Still those churches took on the mission of making disciples for Christ and transforming the world.  The world was filled with conflict, with business, with pagan practices, and more.  Still a small group of believers took the challenge and despite all the obstacles, the Christian community grew.  The message was heard.  And the small membership churches advanced God’s message which has spread around the globe and continues to reach millions each and every day.

Maybe we need to step back, take a breath, and regain our balance.  In the Bishop’s words:

“Focused on work, family, routine, health worry, finances, necessity, and constant activity and distracted by the blur and sound of television, video, Internet, podcasts, MP3s, radio and commercial culture, we easily overlook the movement of spirit and the stirrings of grace.  Living in fast-forward, we neglect the interior life and the spiritual journey and misperceive the signs of God’s presence.” [The Balancing Act, p.7]

The culture we live in today may seem very different from that in which Jesus and the disciples were living, but look at Romans again.  Paul wrote this to the Christians living in Rome.  He had been traveling from one community to another preaching about the New Covenant.  The culture in Rome can be compared to that of our cities today.  It was the center of business, the arts, and government.

As I studied for today, the Life Application notes states how Paul’s letter introduces himself, explains his authority as well as his personal faith, and then outlines how “full submission to Christ” directs our lives.  The balance we need in our lives comes through our faith in God.  In the twelfth chapter, Paul tells us that we are to use our spiritual gifts to serve and love others; in chapter 13, we are reminded to be good citizens.

Can we do it?  I believe we can, but just like all those college students who are media multitasking, we—especially me–need, to stop the multitasking and find a balance.  Remember what Paul said:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.” [Romans 12:1-2]

The key:  The pivot point:  The fulcrum of a balance:  There are two sides to our faith:  one is believing and the second accepting our responsibility.

We simply turn over your life to God, knowing that he is in charge.  He has granted us grace and we forget that.  The Bishop has provided us a strong reminder much like Paul provided the Roman Christians.  We must stop and focus on moments of God’s grace.  Yes, we must stop and smell the roses, because God has graced us with the roses, the eyes to see them, and the sense of smell to enjoy their fragrance.  We must consciously realize how full of God’s grace our lives really are and this awareness comes with turning our lives over, stepping back, and accepting—as well as seeing—that God is in charge.  We do not multitask, we let God guide us.

The second tray on the balance scale is responsibility.   We have the responsibility to fix our attention on God, to stay focused on the mission—to transform the world.  We must not lose our focus or be distracted from God.  The Bishop points out:

“Bridging the chasm between what we believe and what we do requires the hard work of daily reflection, and the intentional rediscovery of grace in everyday life.”  [The Balancing Act, p. 9]

Our responsibility is knowing that mission for our own place in this world.  We must know our community, we must know our spiritual gifts, and we must find ways, with God’s guidance, to find ways to meet the needs of others in our community—right here in Johnson and Henry counties, in Missouri, in our nation, and even beyond, the global community.

The balance is this:  We know that God is in our lives each and every moment.  We see His grace in the world around us.  We see it in the faces of children.  We find it in the fellowship of family and friends.  We feel it in the wags and the licks of our pets.  We know it when we reach out to help.  To find the balance we need in our lives, we must stop multitasking in all the different facets of our lives in order to stay focused on God.  We, as the Bishop says, must intertwine our spiritual lives with the mundane everyday lives we live.  We do that with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Remember Paul’s words:

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.” [Romans 12:1-2]

After weeks of studying, discussion, and reflection, we are at the next step.   We must identify the outreach programs for our focus.  We need to identify our responsibilities, individually and congregationally, to meet the needs.  The global community is reached through our apportionments.  The Festival of Sharing, too, provides a means of outreach.  We are doing that.

But, are we providing the outreach needed right here in our two counties?  Are we using our spiritual gifts to carry out our own Christian responsibility?  Are we teaming up as a church to supplement our efforts? (Rick Warrens says this causes exponential growth: Bishop Schnase sees the five practices as keys to exponential growth.)

This week we are positioned to meet the community face to face.  The fair is here and there is still work to do before Friday.  But this week, we have the opportunity to touch, literally and figuratively, our neighbors with God’s love.  We will not be hospice or hospital churches, we will be hospitality churches—radical hospitality, as we open our door, our kitchen, our facility to the community once again.  We need to keep our focus on God and let the Holy Spirit fill us up with all the skills and strength we need to serve others.  As long as we turn ourselves over to God, we will be able to multitask without losing our balance.  God’s grace will be visible to all we serve.

Dear God,

Thank you for the greatest gift of your grace and the promise of eternal life.  Help each one of us keep our balance as we work to share your love with others.  Help us to multitask in order to use our gifts and our skills to meet the needs of our community.  And, when we all meet together next Sunday, let our open doors welcome the visitors.  Use us to pass on your love.           –Amen

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