Monday, February 12, 2007

Unfolding My Arms

Ten minutes into his sermon, my pastor said we were quieter than usual this Sunday, that he thought he would've upset us with his tithing sermons the first week of the series and not the last. He did an impersonation of us - eyes squinted, arms folded, hunched over, not happy. He then changed positions and told us if we did not like what we were hearing that this position was more effective - cheeks puffed out, forefingers in ears, eyes closed, head to the floor.

Heh, heh, I chuckled to myself. Funny impression.

As I recoiled from my giggle, my eyes noticed something when they moved from the floor to the pulpit. They noticed my horizontal forearms. My arms were crossed. Dr. Ross was impersonating me!

Though I looked like the Joe Layman he was imitating, nothing he had said so far had really disturbed me. There is nothing inherently wrong with the arm fold anyways. A lot more appropriate than other things I could be doing with my arms such as a Terry Pendleton cup adjustment or The Wave. Regardless, there my pastor stood, directly talking about me, and I was oblivious.

It dawned on me that perhaps this happens more often than I admit. As a general rule, I really enjoy what's commonly perceived as straight talk and hard words. This explains why I've actually enjoyed the recent sermond series on tithing. How we manage our money reveals a lot about our heart condition, yet money is perhaps the most defensive area of our lives, making biblical truths about the issue hard to accept and even harder to preach.

The real reason I like hearing about this topic though is because I usually think the words are directed at everyone but me. I do believe this is partly true, as I have prayerfully made a conscious effort to be released from the bondage of materialism. Regardless, what I'm really doing is patting myself on the back, even if subconsciously. This motion cannot be healthy for the elbow and shoulder, and certainly does detriment to the soul.

The realization in all of this is that I really do not like hard words. If words are pleasing to my ear, if what they move me to do is easy (or ever worse, to inaction), they are not hard at all. Last week during a post-sermon prayer, the associate pastor prayed that we would be generous with "our money, ourselves, and our time." Alright, cool, no big. . . . Wait a minute! What's this time thing doing in here! I'm a busy guy, and my time is mine! Who is he or God to demand that I give away my time?

Herein lie the hard words. My arms fold.

I am fanatically jealous of my time. I hate giving it away, moreso than even my money. But let's be real here for a second. I'm a single dude, working 37.5 hours a week at a low-stress job. How busy can I be? The answer: not that busy. Regardless of this, my time is just as much God's as my money is. I must be just as generous with it - whether it be praying, reading my Bible, listening to people, allowing people listen to me - as I am with my money. Failure to tithe robs God but so does failure to give my time to him.

Hearing these things hurts. It literally hurts in a physical sense. I can feel resistance to them in my head and in my gut, as my auto-piloted brain immediately converts into defense mode, producing excuses with the efficiency of a Ford assembly line.

As it turns out, I do not really like hard words after all. They make me feel bad. Yet, the arrow must be painfully pulled out of the wound for healing to occur. So here's to the loss of pride when socially deemed hard words are spoken. Here's to prayerfully standing in the pain when hard conviction comes my way.

Here's to unfolding my arms.


Wilson said...

Nice shout out to one of my all-time favorite Braves. Too bad you lumped him in with The Wave, which I despise. I mean why do The Wave which everyone in the crowd starts watching which in turn takes away from the event that everyone paid money to see. Just dumb. But I digress...

Anyway, I've never liked when people folded their arms. I think it is a sure sign that something is wrong.

Ben said...

Wilson, Pendleton is one of the all-time great Braves - and highly underrated, in my opinion. He was part of the gang that first put the Braves on the map in the early '90's when they went from a fixture in the basement to a fixture in the playoffs. I think he even won MVP one of those years.

Despite his great play, I will always remember him for his constant cup adjustments. This is what young lads (and often older ones) remember. He'd slap an RBI double to right, then adjust himself while standing on second. Wanting to be a good baseball player, I tried this seemingly successful strategy, only to be roundly chastised and rebuked.

Alas, our sports idols are not always to emulated.