Rule Number 6

Exodus 18:13-26
13 The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’ 15Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God.16When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’ 17Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good. 18You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. 21You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.’
24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.25Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.26And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves.

Luke 10:25-37
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.* ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’28And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii,* gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, in their book The Art of Possibility, tell the story of two prime ministers who were sitting in one’s office discussing affairs of state. Suddenly an aide burst in, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The host prime minister quietly said, “Peter, kindly remember Rule Number Six.” Peter was instantly restored to complete calm, apologized for the interruption, and left the room. The prime ministers resumed their discussion. Several minutes later, another aide rushed in, shouting and stamping. Again the host prime minister quietly said, “Marie, please remember Rule Number Six.” Marie calmed down immediately, apologized, and left the room.  The visiting prime minister said “I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Tell me, what is this Rule Number Six?” The host prime minister said, “It’s really very simple. Rule Number Six is ‘Don’t take yourself so seriously.’” After a moment of pondering, the visiting prime minister inquired, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”
The host replied, “There aren’t any.”

One of the biggest problems we face day to day in our “uncontrollable” lives is that we take ourselves way too seriously. You have no idea how this affects your ability to be free, enjoy life, and live fully for God as God intended, which draws others to a living and loving faith in Christ.  The truth is, life is uncontrollable. But the height of pride and vainglory is to think that we can control it. And because we think this way, we are often frustrated and disappointed. This is tied to our expectations, but it is more than that. This is about how we view ourselves in the midst of the life we live. Most things in life we can’t control, rather than let the uncontrollable disturb us; we need to remember Rule Number 6 and how we can learn to view life, and ourselves, differently.

I do a lot of weddings here. And if you are involved in weddings often, one thing you can count on – something will go wrong. It could be a big thing or a small thing. It may be something you see or something you never see. There are just too many details over months and months for something not to go wrong. Whether the pants don’t show up in the best man’s tux, or the candle just won’t light, or a groomsman falls out, or maybe just after the bride declares her love to the groom and kisses him, the soloist sings “I’d rather have Jesus.” Something is going to happen!
I remember the father of one wedding recently who was so serious and so nervous about his one line. When I ask, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” his reply had to be perfect. All night at the rehearsal he kept looking at me, “Her mother and I do…Her mother and I do…Her mother and I do.” I kept telling him, it’s okay. Next day, I ask the question, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” and he replies emphatically, “My mother and I do.” He was terribly upset as people began to laugh, but his daughter, with a huge smile on her face said to him, “That’s perfect. We will never forget that!”

A few years ago, I was doing a wedding on a golf course in Columbus, Georgia. It was a beautiful setting on a walking bridge across a beautiful shallow stream next to the green. Everything was perfect. I handed the groom a beautiful diamond wedding ring which he took in his hand…took her hand in his…and as I asked him to place it on her finger and repeat after me…he dropped it, bouncing off the walking bridge into the ankle high, flowing stream. He began to freak out, the bride laughed, and two bridesmaids and a few guest took off their shoes and proceeded to make their way into the stream.

The reason Rule Number 6 is so important is because when things like this happens, it is not a tragedy! It is not a disaster!! It is a disclosure of our humanity! When we have a right understanding of who we are in Christ, we practice not taking ourselves so seriously – Rule Number 6. It is one of the best ways to remind us of our humanity – our need to rely on a power greater than ourselves.

Today, in both our passages of scripture, we see Rule Number 6 at work.

First, Moses is leading God’s people in a very inefficient way. He is dealing with everything and it is killing him, but he feels he must do it! After all, he’s Moses and he is God’s chosen leader! It takes a reality check from his father in law to say, “Look at what you are doing! This is not good!” Moses listened to his father in law, but the temptation and reveals a great lesson – we can’t do it all and we are not the center of the universe. Even Moses needed help and he understood it.

In the second passage today, a lawyer is trying to justify himself by asking Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. As Jesus answers, he apparently doesn’t remember Rule Number 6, because he feels the need to justify himself. Jesus tells a story that digs deep into issues of identity and worth by making the neighbor, the one who helps the man in the ditch, a Samaritan – one of the most reviled groups of the people the Jews had in their day.

There are two selves doing battle in us all the time. Paul talked about this when he wrote, “what I want to do I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do, I do.” We see it today in the scripture about Moses as he struggles to lead God’s people and is able to receive help from his father in law. And we see it in the interchange between the lawyer and Jesus in Luke 10 as he tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  If you want to understand Rule Number 6 and how to use it, you have to understand the Calculating Self and the Centering Self.

THE CALCULATING SELF
This Calculating Self is the part of ourselves concerned with our own survival in a world of scarcity. This is the part of ourselves that not only thinks we are the center of the world, but causes us to act like we are the center of the world. The Calculating Self is always measuring, always evaluating how we are perceived and is always calling out, “Take note of me.”  The Calculating Self is a part of who we are, but the power of SIN has really distorted how it works in us. The Calculating Self develops when we are children – we are the center of the world, demanding, measuring our worth on what we accomplish and what others think of us. As we grow up, some of us are able to harness the Calculating Self and we gain some sense of control over it, we mature – but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, no matter how confident or self-aware we are as adults, underneath the surface we see ourselves as marginal, at risk for losing everything.  The Calculating Self without proper control is always trying to climb higher, get more control, displace others, and find a way in. The Calculating Self must be brought under control through the work of God’s spirit, love and humility and one of the best ways to do this is to learn to “not take ourselves so seriously”. As we peel away layers of opinion, entitlement, pride, and inflated views of ourselves, others instantly feel the connection. As we have the grace to practice Rule Number 6, then the other part of ourselves begins to work through, the Centering Self. And this is where we need to grow.

THE CENTERING SELF
Inscribed on five of the six pillars in the Holocaust Memorial at Quincy Market in Boston are stories that speak of the cruelty and suffering in the camps. The sixth pillar presents a tale of a different sort, about a little girl named Ilse, a childhood friend of Guerda Weissman Kline, in Auschwitz. Guerda remembers that Ilse, who was about six years old at the time, found one morning a single raspberry somewhere in the camp. Ilse carried it all day long in a protected place in her pocket, and in the evening, her eyes shining with happiness, she presented it to her friend Guerda on a leaf. “Imagine a world,” writes Guerda, “in which your entire possession is one raspberry, and you give it to your friend.”

Such is the nature of the Centering Self, the part of ourselves that embraces God’s image in us and lives centered on Christ’s principles of love and humility. Since the calculating self is designed to look out for Number One, it rears its head when we find ourselves at an impasse, whenever we are threatened – whether in politics or personal relationships or in the business world.  We are able to gain control of the Calculating Self through prayer, humility, love and self-discipline which allows the Centering Self to take over. When this happens, we find that childish demands and entitlements are not important for us anymore. Something changes in us. We die to self and live to Christ. We love more. We are less concerned with how others view us. We grow confident in our Christian identity, rather than a constructed identity based on what we do, what we know, or what we earn.

Today’s lesson is this: Practice Rule Number 6 – Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously
Keep alive and well your ability to laugh. Laugh with – never at – others. Laugh loudest at yourself. Poke holes in pomposity. Keep smiling – people will wonder what you’re up to!

Less Is More

Matthew 6:19-21, 25, 33
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, says in his book The Paradox of Choice that the official dogma of our culture is that the more choice people have the more freedom people have and the more freedom people have the more welfare they have. This is what we have always believed about choice, freedom and happiness.

Here are some examples. Go to your supermarket. 75 dressings not to mention the olive oil and vinegars available and all the options you have.
At work, we are blessed to work from anywhere. Our cellphone, our iPad, our laptop are always with us and available. At our child’s soccer game or football game we are constantly bombarded with the choice of “should I respond to this email, phone call, etc. Even if the answer is “no”, it makes the experience of the child’s ball game very different for us.

All of these choices have two effects on us.

First, paradoxically, all these choices produce more paralysis rather than freedom. With so many options and choices in life, we find it hard to choose at all. Here is an example: A study was done on investments in voluntary retirement plans for Vanguard. They studied 2000 workplaces and found that for every 10 retirement funds they offered rate of participation went down 2%. Offer 50 funds, 10% fewer participants. It was too hard to decide so they put it off! Even if we choose, we are less satisfied than if we had fewer choices because we always wonder if we made the right choice and regret enters in wondering what difference would be if we made another choice!!

Secondly, all these choices in life cause our expectations to be escalated through the roof! Any middle age man who has had to go shopping for a pair of blue jeans will find the person at the store ask, “Do you want straight cut, boot cut, relaxed fit, stone washed, slim fit, button fly, acid wash, tapered?” To which the middle age man replies, “I want the kind that used to be the only kind.” Spend an hour trying on jeans and ultimately you find a great pair of jeans. Truth be told, with all these choices you find the best pair of jean you’ve ever bought. All the choices allow for a better outcome and do better. But you feel worse. Why?

We feel worse because with all these options available our expectations go up. All the options in life can’t help but raise our expectations! This means less satisfaction with results even when they are good results!

With perfection the expectation for us all, you merely hope things will be as good as you hope. We are never pleasantly surprised because we expect perfection.  With all this information, Barry Schwartz gives us the secret of happiness…
The secret to happiness is…low expectations.

Truly the secret to happiness is realistic and modest expectations. There is nothing wrong with hoping tomorrow will be better than today, but we have given up on that and gone straight to the expectation of perfection.  We have this naïve notion to think we are not slaves to comparison – we are always comparing ourselves to others and how we did yesterday and how we hoped to do.  It is true that some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow that more choice is better than some.

The anxiety and worry in our lives about so many things and so many expectations, leads to paralysis and disappointment. We are afraid, we are stuck, and we are unhappy so often in this life. There is no peace when our lives are out of control. We live in fear of simplicity. We fear simplicity because we are creatures of comparison who measure our worth on what we have and where we stand in comparison to those around us. But here is the paradox Jesus presents to us. It is in simplicity that we find freedom. It is in less that we find the answers to our out of control lives.

Jesus during this Sermon on the Mount heard and saw the birds. The birds can’t reap or sow, but God provides for them. They still have to work for their food, but it is there. If they seek it, then they find it. He looks on the ground, he sees the flowers. The wild flowers, especially the red poppies, are brilliantly colorful. They’re the color of King Solomon’s robes–radiant and stunning.  I’ve always wondered about Jesus using birds and flowers as illustrations – they don’t have mortgages and payments for braces last time I checked. But that isn’t the point. It isn’t that we are supposed to become the birds and flowers, we are supposed to consider and look at (two very strong verbs for Jesus to use) to see how God cares so much for these little things. And if he cares for them, then think how much more God cares for us! Jesus reminds us of God’s providence for all creation – including birds, flowers, and human beings.  After Jesus teaches about storing up treasures, the birds, and the flowers, we are left with a very clear focus from Christ. Seek first the Kingdom of God. All this stuff and all these expectations cause us to forget God’s role. And when we forget God’s role in our lives, we forget to depend on God. Our insatiable appetite for more, leads to less freedom because we depend less and less on God.

There are two things you can take with you today that can help you.

First, downsize your life. Live more simply. I have a friend in Columbus who made a conscious decision to do this. He and his wife have great jobs and make great incomes. But for a while, they bought too big a house and too much car and lived extended to the limit. They weren’t happy at all. One day, he and his wife decided to actually try this lesson. They sold their home and bought a smaller home. They bought less cars. And he doubled the amount of money he gave away to the church and to help others. His life changed. It was amazing to see how God became the center of his life even more simply because he simplified his life.

Second, get control of your expectations. We really need to work on this! Discontentment in the grocery store line, with family and friends, at a restaurant, with your pastor, with your government – all this misery and frustration and disappointment are rooted in unrealistic expectations. We judge others by their actions and we judge ourselves by our intentions – we see the splinter in others’ eyes and miss the log in our own eyes – we have got to challenge our expectations if we want to find peace and contentment.

Downsizing our lives and managing our expectations will allow us to depend more fully on God. To seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness.

Thomas Merton on Being and Doing, Part 1

During Wesley staff meetings each week, we wrestle with the writings of Thomas Merton who challenges us to BE in God more than to DO for God. This week, Tommy directs us to examine how we understand our being and if it is tied negatively to our doing.

Genesis 2.2-9
2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,* and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

From Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island, Chapter 7: Being and Doing (Part 1, pp. 117ff)
• We are warmed by the fire, not the smoke of the fire. We are carried over the sea by a ship, not by the wake of a ship. So too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.
• My soul is hidden and invisible. It is hidden from us. We cannot see our own eyes, but we know they are there because we can see. Our soul can reflect in the mirror of its own activity, but what is seen in the mirror is only a reflection of who I am, not my true being. Much depends on how the soul sees itself in the mirror of its own activity.
• Our soul only finds itself when it acts. We must act. Stagnation brings death. I do not need to see myself; I simply need to be myself. I must think and act like a living being, but I must not plunge my whole self into what I think and do, or seek always to find myself in the work I have done. The soul that projects itself entirely into activity and seeks itself outside itself in the work of its own will is like a madman who sleeps on the sidewalk in front of his house instead of living inside where it is quiet and warm.
• Being means nothing to those who hate and fear what they themselves are. They must struggle to escape their true being. They verify a false existence by constantly viewing what they themselves do. They keep looking in the mirror for reassurance, but they do not expect to see themselves. They are hoping for some sign that they have become the god they hope to become by the means of their own frantic activity – invulnerable, all powerful, infinitely wise, unbearably fruitful, and unable to die.
• When we constantly look in the mirror of our own acts, our spiritual double-vision splits us into two people. We strain to see and we forget which image is real. In fact, reality is no longer found either in himself or in his shadow. The substance has gone out of itself into the shadow and he has become two shadows instead of one real person. Then the battle begins. Instead of one shadow praising the other, it accuses the other. The activities that were meant to exalt us now condemn us. We can never be real enough or active enough. The less we are able to BE the more we must DO. We are now our own slave driver – a shadow whipping a shadow to death, because it cannot produce reality out of our own nonentity. Then comes fear. We who “are not” become terrified by what we cannot do. We had illusions of power and sanctity, but now tidal waves of nonentity, powerlessness, hopelessness surge up in us with every action we attempt. The shadow hates and judges the shadow who is not a god and who can do absolutely nothing.
• In order to find God in ourselves, we must stop looking at ourselves, stop checking and verifying ourselves in the mirror of our own futility, and be content to BE in God and to do whatever God wills, according to our limitations, judging our acts not in the light of our own illusions, but in the light of God’s reality which is all around us in the things and people we live with.