I don’t know how it happened! I really don’t!
There we were, my wife and I, looking at our calendars for the Fall and the newly registered craziness that was going to be our children’s schedule.
“There is an activity almost every night of the week!”
“I know!” My wife said, “ugh, why didn’t we see this coming!”
For us, the long litany of scheduling conflicts, appointments, and obligations comes from martial arts, boy scouts, girl scouts, private music lessons, youth group, school, work, and confirmation classes. It’s a long list, not as long as some but longer than others and plenty long for us to barely deal with successfully. This year my wife and I have found ourselves in the interesting situation that I will be my son’s confirmation teacher and she will be the “parental unit” in charge of confirmation work at home. I’m not sure how this is going to go!
My personal and professional life isn’t much better, as many of you know, right now I am juggling my full-time professional pastoral ministry with full-time schooling for my Master’s in Professional Counseling. This degree is something I have been working towards for years now and honestly, I couldn’t think of any time in my life when life would be less busy! I’m committed to completing this degree and I only have a year left to go before my licensure exam! I am convinced that this degree will help me to be a better pastor, a better helper for other pastors, and a better Christian being able to serve others in this new way. But at the same time, the demands of a busy and growing parish life doesn’t slow down and in fact it keeps getting busier!
I’m sharing this with you, so you know I share in the same struggles that you do to keep life balanced and to keep my Christian faith life the center and priority of all that I do.
In my 10 years of pastoral ministry… (geez, I can’t believe I’ve been a parish pastor for a decade now!) one of the really best experiences I get to have as a pastor is to be with all sorts of people in all sorts of different stages and ages in their life: from the very youngest, oldest, without or with children, widowed… the list goes on and on. One thing I’ve seen with every life stage is that prioritizing the Christian life doesn’t get any easier from one stage of life to the next.
But, as far as modern-day Christians living in the US are concerned, we are light years better off than the early first century Christians and what they had to go through. In Pastor Paul’s letter in Holy Scripture to the church in Thessalonica encouraging them because they were being persecuted for their faith, he wrote.
“Dear brothers and sisters,we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing. We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering.”
Think for a moment how amazing this is and many Christians today don’t have a strong concept of what those early Christians had to go through. Western Christians are used to their being a Christian church in every community and sometimes on every other corner. As Americans, we are used to having the freedom of religious expression without persecution. We are also used to practicing the Christian faith at our schedule and based on our feelings at the moment. Church signs proudly ask “come, join us,” “be a part of the family,” come for something “Relevant, Relaxed, and Real.”
When this letter was written to the first century Christians the concept of religious liberty wouldn’t truly happen for another couple of hundred years with Emperor Constantine. In the country they lived in, if you were on the emperor’s list of religions he didn’t like you were more than likely to end up on a burning stake, eaten by lions or at the very least ruined financially and socially, just for being a Christian. There were no signs saying come join us, you’ll love it at our church! The sign was more like, “come be a Christian, you’ll die a horrible death!” The stakes for those early Christians were too high for their faith to be an occasional thing. Either this was worth dying a horrible death for or it wasn’t. If it was, you lived the Christian life because what else mattered as much as the hope you had in Jesus Christ.
It is no surprise, that in countries around the world, especially in the past decades where ISIS and extremists took over, being a Christian was a death sentence. Either it was worth being a Christian or it wasn’t, and if it was, you lived your life as a Christian because what else mattered?
Meditating on the struggles and obstacles the early Christians and modern Christians around the world have in practicing their faith, it makes my little juggling act of scouts, martial arts, and confirmation a cakewalk.
But… this is what we are used too and what we have to deal with. Looking at the past and the struggles around us can give us some good perspective on what actually matters most in terms of how we spend our time, but it doesn’t make it any easier to the hard work of prioritizing, adjusting, saying no and saying yes appropriately, so we can let our Christian faith be the most important part of who we are.
I guess the question goes back to the same question those early Christians faced. “Is it worth it?” Is my faith worth letting go of other plans, programs, and parties so Jesus can be first in my life and my schedule?
God’s Word gives us an answer to that question. “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life.” John 6:68 CEV.