Yes, and I will continue to rejoice. for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
- Philippians 1:18b-21
Can I start with something trivial? You know, to set the stage?
Okay, it starts with something totally not trivial. I was having a comment conversation with Julie of Cookie Crumbs to Live By. She had seen images of the present-day quarantined Italy. She wrote about the people and the culture. I shared my single trip to Italy. We bounced comments back and forth for a while. It was significant in that we both had a chance to stimulate our memories and share what seemed important at that time.
But that got me to thinking about my first night in Italy, and how I marveled upon my first meal there and the lesson that I learned from it.
We were staying in Martina Franca. This town sits on the ridge, just about equal distance from the Adriatic Sea to the east, Tyrrhenian Sea to the west, and the Bay of Taranto and the Ionian Sea to the south. Our company had a project at a steel mill in Taranto. (Note: the city in Italy and the city in Canada spell it differently.) As the commissioning check-out neared completion, the customer wanted the workers trained, a spur of the moment decision, as in Thursday we were not going and Friday here’s your tickets, you leave tomorrow. (After one week in Italy, I returned home to experience the same scenario the next week for a project in South Korea. Working on three continents in a little over a week did a number with jet lag – and neither trip was scheduled until the last minute.)
But we arrived at our hotel about noon on Sunday. I drove the car, because my assistant instructor did not drive a stick shift, and I was rusty. It was about dawn in the US, and we had not slept. So, I took a nap before supper. The commissioning guys woke us up and dragged us through the town to a sleepy little café for a ‘special treat.’ The restaurants in the area did not serve lasagna as a part of their normal menu. It took too much effort and it could not be made in a traditional style unless a large dish was being made. The restaurant agreed only because two additional Americans would be coming and the crew promised that we would only order the antipasto and the lasagna, along with the drinks and dessert.
Now here is the reason for the little story and trip down memory lane. The lasagna did not look like the dish that is in the photo above. It was a layered dish using lasagna noodles, but the sauce seemed to be painted on the noodles, more of a stain than a layer of sauce. The only cheese was a thin layer of a cheese that might have been mozzarella, but it was melted and stuck to one side of the pasta, almost imperceptibly there, until you tasted it. As I studied this layered mound of pasta, I noticed a few spices and some thin slices of mushrooms. But the overwhelming feature of the dish was the lasagna noodles. To them, that was important. Otherwise, why order lasagna?
I once had lasagna that was hand-made by a family member. This person will remain nameless and genderless because there is a lot of love there. This family member was notorious for the love of two foods: mushrooms and spinach. When I used my fork to cut through the layers, the layers fell apart. The mushrooms were thickly sliced, 4-5 times thicker than the noodles. This person wanted to taste the mushrooms. And the spinach layers were even thicker, but obviously stacks of leaves. Obviously, what was important to the chef was the features that stood out, and the layering of the dish wasn’t necessary once you started eating.
But there have been other lasagna dishes that featured a predominance of the sauce in one case or the cheese in another. Whatever was the thing that was important to the chef became the feature that stood out, in appearance, in taste, and in volume. It’s hard to make everything perfectly balanced.
Don’t get me wrong. I was frustrated with the spinach and mushroom salad with noodles attached, only in the difficulty of cutting it into bite-sized portions and eating it. Until my recent digestive issues and strict diet, lasagna was always my favorite, at least one of my favorites. It is hard to make lasagna inedible. The southern Italian version was out-of-this-world delicious, but if I fixed it, I’d have a little more sauce and a lot more cheese, the items more important to me.
In this illustration, I hope I conveyed that the concept of the thing that is important is the thing that is the centerpiece of what we are doing. To the Italian restaurant, you’d take away from the noodles by adding more of anything else. Yet, the other things provided the distinctive flavor.
When we say that we are Christians, is Jesus the obvious centerpiece of our lives? And if He is not, what is?
In our boredom, or frantic chasing of children that ‘Just-Won’t-Go-Back-To-School’, we say that we should spend more time reading and studying the Bible. We complain that our prayer life is hectic. But, what are we doing with our time?
A pastor was teaching a Bible study in a church where he was not the pastor. He made a comment that the elders in the class should figure out how much time was spent at session meetings on money matters and how much time was spent on God. He made the statement to make a point, not for anyone to actually count the minutes, but me being the engineer that I am, I never went to a session meeting after that class without using a stopwatch and recording the time. For those who don’t know what a session is, that is the ruling body within an individual Presbyterian church. These session meetings, way back many years ago when I was on the ruling body, lasted about four hours. They would have been more effective if limited to under one hour. The starting prayer and devotion lasted about 10-15 minutes. Let’s be generous and say 15 minutes. Something that Christian Education said, almost accidentally, might have related to God, so give them five minutes. My ten minutes on Evangelism was always about God – and I was often told to be quiet, because this was a business meeting and we had no time for God here. And the other 3.5 hours was about property (which is spending money on the building) and pure money matters. If there was a problem to resolve regarding money, the money portion of the meeting was extended an additional hour, and I did not get home until the next morning.
I might have never known how much of the meeting was about money if I wasn’t using a stopwatch, if the pastor from a different church had not made the suggestion.
What was important in that case? Money matters required 87.5% of people’s time at the meetings, not just one meeting; these are averages. Sometimes, I had less to report. Don’t get me wrong. I grew up with modified KJV taught in our house which states “Money is the root of all evil” in 1 Timothy 6:10. The actual KJV says “The love of money,” but you know how local rewrites can occur when a parent is explaining something to the child. Now the NIV says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” – not all evil. The changes in those three concepts can make your head spin, but the idea that comes across is that the ruling body of the church might run the “business” of running a church, but if their dominant focus is only on money, they have lost their way. In that alone, it can lead to all kinds of evil.
But in this post, I am thinking more about our time, and forgetting, for a moment, the old saying that “time is money.” (Thank you, Benjamin Franklin.)
Some of us in the quarantine are busier than ever, but maybe a little more time in prayer can help cope with the madness. But if you are bored, have time on your hands, it is better to pray and do a Bible study than to use that free time complaining that you do not spend enough time in prayer and Bible study.
What is important is what becomes the centerpiece in your life.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.