Christianity 201

August 26, 2018

Sabbath: We Rest and We Worship (Part Two)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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NIV.Gen.2.2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Yesterday and today we’re running an excerpt from an earlier book by John Mark Comer whose more recent book God Has a Name we’ve featured here before. This one is Garden City: Work, Rest and the Art of Being Human (Zondervan, 2015). John Mark is the pastor of Bridgetown Church, in Portland Oregon.

I Am Not a Machine (excerpt, part two)

…It’s a day for rest, and it’s a day for worship.

When I Sabbath, I run everything through this grid — is this rest? Is this worship? If the answer to both questions is yes, then I delight in it; if the answer is no, then I hold off until the next day.

Because the Sabbath is not the same thing as a day off.

Make sure you get the difference.

On a day off you don’t work for your employer, but you still work. You grocery shop, go to the bank, mow the lawn, work on the remodel project, chip away at that sci-fi novel you’re writing . . .

On the Sabbath, you rest, and you worship. That’s it.

That’s why Moses was teaching the Israelites to get ready for the Sabbath. To bake and boil and gear up for the day of rest.

Think of the Sabbath like a weekly holiday. You don’t just wake up on Christmas morning and think, What should we do today? No, you get ready for it. The same is true for Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July or your birthday or anniversary — you plan and prep and shop and look forward to it for days at a time. In my family, we Sabbath from Friday at sundown through Saturday, so Friday afternoons are always a flurry of activity. We clean the house and finish the to-do list and stop by the market and plan out the day ahead, and then finally, it comes.

Blessed and holy.

Here’s what I’m saying: there is a rhythm to this world. For six days we rule and subdue and work and draw out and labor and bleed and wrestle and fight with the ground. But then we take a step back, and for twenty-four hours, we sabbath, we enjoy the fruit of our labor, we delight in God and his world, we celebrate life, we rest, and we worship.

The Creator God is inviting us to join him in this rhythm, this interplay of work and rest. And when we don’t accept his invitation, we reap the consequences. Fatigue. Burnout. Anxiety. Depression. Busyness. Starved relationships. Worn-down

immune systems. Low energy levels. Anger. Tension. Confusion. Emptiness. These are the signs of a life without rest.

Maybe that’s why later the Sabbath is commanded. When Israel is at the base of Mount Sinai, God comes down on top of the mountain in a cloud of fire and smoke and lightning. And then with a voice like a California earthquake, God speaks the Ten Commandments over his people. His vision for human-ness is shrunk down to ten commands — so few a child can count them on their fingers.

And guess what the longest, most in-depth command is?

The Sabbath. It gets more real estate than any of the others.

God starts off by saying, “Remember the Sabbath day.”

So the Sabbath is something that’s easy to forget. It’s easy to get sucked into this 24/7, go-go-go, hamster wheel that we call the modern world. We’re to remember the Sabbath.

How? By “keeping it holy.”

So the Sabbath is holy, but it’s also something we have to keep holy. It’s easy to profane, to desecrate. It’s easy for it to just become another day in the rat race. Another day to fall into the pattern — work, buy, sell, repeat. We’re to keep it holy — to guard it, watch over it, treat it like a delicate flower in a New York subway.

If you’re thinking, Why should I go to all this trouble? God ends his longest commandment with the answer, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

So, for God, his Sabbath commandment is grounded in the creation story itself.

Lots of people argue that we’re “free” from the Sabbath because it was a part of the Torah, or Law. As if it was a legalistic rule we were stuck with until Jesus. What a tragic misunderstanding.

It is true that we’re no longer under the Torah, and it’s also true that the Sabbath is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament.  But even so, the Sabbath still stands as wisdom.

There isn’t a command in the New Testament to eat food or drink water or sleep eight hours a night. That’s just wisdom, how the Creator set up the human body and the world itself.

You can skip the Sabbath — it’s not sin. It’s just stupid. You can eat concrete — it’s not sin. It’s just dumb.

You can stay awake for days at a time like Josh Lyman in The West Wing. Go ahead. God’s not mad at you. But if you do that long enough, you’ll die.

At one point, Moses calls the Sabbath a gift. That’s exactly what it is.

I cringe when I hear people argue about whether or not we have to keep the Sabbath, and if so, on what day. Some say Saturday like the Jews, others say Sunday because of Jesus’ resurrection, others think any day is fine. But all this arguing is an exercise in missing the point. The point is that there is a way the Creator set the creation up to thrive. A way that God set you up to thrive. And when we Sabbath, we tap into God’s rhythm for human flourishing.

Technically, the Sabbath is from twenty minutes before sundown on Friday evening to Saturday late afternoon (the Jewish day is measured from sunset to sunset). But most followers of Jesus Sabbath on Sunday, as it’s the day of Messiah’s resurrection, as well as the day we come together for worship. For me Sunday is a workday. And it’s exhausting. I’m up early, gearing up for a marathon day. My last teaching is at eight p.m.! So by the time I get home around eleven o’clock, I’m crawling along the floor.

Not literally. That was a metaphor.

So we follow the tradition of Friday night to Saturday late afternoon, but only because it works for our life. I don’t think what day you take is important. Genesis doesn’t say Friday or Saturday; it just says the seventh. And the writer Paul said, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” I guess people have been arguing about this for a while. For us, Friday night to Saturday just works great.

And for us, the Sabbath is by far the highlight of the week. My two youngest children, Moses and Sunday, are both five, so they honestly have no clue how to tell time. Tomorrow and three days from now and next week all blend into one. So every morning they ask me, Is it Sabbath? with a big, hopeful, childlike grin. Jude is nine and pretty snappy with his new watch, so he counts down all week long. Three days until Sabbath. Two days left. Tomorrow! Which comes as no surprise. In Genesis, Sabbath is the climax of the seven-day cycle. It’s on day seven, not three or four. It’s not a pause so we can recoup and then “get back to work.” If anything, it’s the other way around. It’s the end goal, what the entire week is moving toward. The climax is an entire day set aside to worship.

Just like work, when it’s done right, is an act of worship, the same is true with rest. You can rest as an act of worship to God.

You can even rest to the glory of God. When you enjoy the world as God intended — with a cup of coffee, a nap in a hammock, a good meal, time with friends, it glorifies God — it calls attention to the Creator’s presence and beauty all around us. And when you do all that in a spirit of gratitude, letting the goodness of your world and life conjure up an awareness of God and a love for him, then rest becomes worship.

Even though the Sabbath is about imitation of the God who works and then rests, it’s also a day to remember that we’re not God. We take a day off, and the world gets along just fine without us.

We’re not as important as we think.

The Sabbath is a day to embrace this reality, to let it sink in, to own it, to celebrate it. To celebrate our weakness, our mortality, our limits. To celebrate our God of strength and immortality and limitless power. To rest with him and to rest in him.

That’s why Sabbath is an expression of faith. Faith that there is a Creator and he’s good. We are his creation. This is his world. We live under his roof, drink his water, eat his food, breathe his oxygen. So on the Sabbath, we don’t just take a day off from work; we take a day off from toil. We give him all our fear and anxiety and stress and worry. We let go. We stop ruling and subduing, and we just be. We “remember” our place in the universe. So that we never forget . . .

There is a God, and I’m not him.

August 25, 2018

Sabbath: We Rest and We Worship (Part One)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , ,

NIV.Gen.2.2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Today and tomorrow we’re running an excerpt from an earlier book by John Mark Comer whose more recent book God Has a Name we’ve featured here before. This one is Garden City: Work, Rest and the Art of Being Human (Zondervan, 2015). John Mark is the pastor of Bridgetown Church, in Portland Oregon.

I Am Not a Machine (excerpt, part one)

In Genesis 2, at the end of the creation story, we read, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

As I said earlier in the book, the creation story starts with God working and ends with God resting. After six “days” of world making, it’s done. The universe is “completed.”

And you think your week was productive?

Then we read that God rested.

Make sure you catch that.

God rested.

God, who doesn’t need sleep or a day off or a vacation, who doesn’t get tired or worn down or grouchy, who is without parallel to any other being in the universe, rested.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want you to remember that we are made in his image. We are made to mirror and mimic what God is like to the world.

God works, so we work.

God rests, so we rest.

Work and rest live in a symbiotic relationship. If you don’t learn how to rest well, you will never learn how to work well (and vice versa). After all, the opposite of work isn’t rest — it’s sleep. Work and rest are friends, not enemies. They are a bride and groom who come together to make a full, well-rounded life.

Sabbath isn’t just a day to not work; it’s a day to delight in what one Hebrew poet called “the work of our hands.” To delight in the life you’ve carved out in partnership with God, to delight in the world around you, and to delight in God himself. Sabbath is a day to pull up a chair, sink into it, look back over the work of the last six days, and just enjoy.

The word rested in Genesis 2 is shabat in Hebrew, where we get the word Sabbath. It essentially means “to stop” or “cease” or “be complete,” but it can also be translated “to celebrate.”

Jews have been practicing the art of Sabbath for millennia. We have a lot we can learn from them. They talk a lot about menuha — another Hebrew word that’s translated “rest,” but it’s a very specific kind of rest. It’s not just a nap on the couch. It’s a restfulness that’s also a celebration. It’s often translated “happiness.” And to the Jews, menuha is something you create. It’s not just that you stop working and sit on the couch for a day every week. It’s about cultivating an environment, an atmosphere to enjoy your life, your world, and your God. It’s more of a mode of being than a twenty-four-hour time slot.

We all need a little menuha once in a while. And that’s what the Sabbath is for.

The Sabbath is a day when God has my rapt attention.

It’s a day when I’m fully available to my family and friends.

The Sabbath is a day with no to-do list.

It’s a day when I don’t accomplish anything, and I don’t feel guilty.

It’s a day when my phone is off, my email is closed, and you can’t get ahold of me.

The Sabbath isn’t a day to buy or sell — to get more. It’s a day to enjoy what I already have.

It isn’t a day to be sad.

Because the Sabbath is a day for menuha — for the celebration of life in God’s very good world.

After six “days” of universe-sculpting work, God rested. And in doing so, he built a rhythm into creation itself. We work for six days, and then we rest for one. And this cadence of work and rest is just as vital to our humanness as food or water or sleep or oxygen. It’s mandatory for survival, to say nothing of flourishing. I’m not a machine. I can’t work seven days a week. I’m a human. All I can do is work for six days and then rest for one, just like the God whose image I bear.

After God rested, we read, “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

There are two fascinating words here that we need to drill down on: blessed and holy.

The word bless is barak in Hebrew, pronounced like the [former] president. A barak, or a blessing, in the creation story is a life-giving ability to procreate — to make more life.

God baraked three times in Genesis.

First, God blessed the “living creatures” (the animal kingdom) and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth.”

Then he blessed human and said the exact same thing, “Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth.”

And then he “blessed the seventh day.” So he blesses the living creatures.

Then he blesses human.

Then he blesses, a day? How does that work?

The Sabbath has a life-giving ability to procreate — to fill the world up with life.

No matter how much you love your job or fine-tune your work/ life balance, by the end of the week, you’re tired. Your fuel cells are on empty. But rest refills us — with energy, creativity, vision, strength, optimism, buoyancy, clarity, and hope. Rest is life-giving.

Because God baraked the Sabbath day.

So that’s the first word. One more. Next we read that God made the Sabbath holy. In Hebrew, it’s this weighty, serious word — qadosh. Usually this word is used for God.

God is qadosh. He’s holy.

The rabbis make a big deal about the “principle of first mention,” which, put simply, means the first time you read a word in the Scriptures it’s kind of like a definition. It sets the stage for how you read the word all the way through.

Did you know that the first time you read the word qadosh in the Bible is right here? And what does God make holy?

Time.

This is intriguing. You would think that after creating the world, God would make a holy space — a mountain or a temple or a shrine. After all, every other religion has a holy space. Islam has Mecca. Hinduism has the Ganges River. Paganism has Stonehenge. Baseball has Wrigley Field.

But this God doesn’t have a holy space; he has a holy time — the Sabbath. This God isn’t found in the world of space — in a temple, on top of a mountain, at a spring, around a statue or a monument. He’s found in the world of time.

Heschel said, “The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals.” There is a hierarchy to time. Not all moments are created equal.

Some moments are much, much better than others.

For six days we wrestle with the world of space — the hard work of building civilization. But on the Sabbath, we savor the world of time. We slow down, take a deep breath, and drink it all in.

We push the Slow-Mo button.

Yesterday was the first warm, sunny day of the year — it hit 70. When that happens in Portland, it’s like a de facto citywide party. I had a busy day, but there was a brief moment where I was at my house and I had ten minutes to spare before I needed to head out. So I sat on my patio, in the sun, took my shirt off, and just slowed everything down. My goal was to make those ten minutes feel like ten hours.

The Sabbath is like that. It’s a day where your goal is to savor every second. Because it’s holy.

Is this how you think of holiness?

Sadly, a lot of us think of holiness in the negative — about what we don’t do. We don’t get drunk or we don’t sleep around or we don’t watch R-rated movies (unless they are about Jesus or have Russell Crowe in them). And that’s not all bad, but it’s one-sided. Holiness also has a positive side. It’s about what we do.

Later, in Exodus, there’s a gripping story about Moses and Israel out in the wilderness. They are starving to death, and so God sends this strange new food called manna. It literally falls from the sky every morning, and all they have to do is go out and pick it up. With one exception. On the sixth day twice as much falls from the sky. And on the seventh day — the Sabbath — nothing. The sky is empty.

The people are confused when they wake up on day six and there’s an extra bag of groceries, so Moses says, “Tomorrow is to be a day of Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil.

Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.

A holy Sabbath to the Lord.

This language of holy to the Lord is used all through the Scriptures. It can also be translated “dedicated to the Lord.” So the Sabbath is an entire day that is holy, set aside, dedicated to the Lord.

It’s a day for rest, and it’s a day for worship.

When I Sabbath, I run everything through this grid — is this rest? Is this worship? If the answer to both questions is yes, then I delight in it; if the answer is no, then I hold off until the next day.

Because the Sabbath is not the same thing as a day off.

Make sure you get the difference.

On a day off you don’t work for your employer, but you still work. You grocery shop, go to the bank, mow the lawn, work on the remodel project, chip away at that sci-fi novel you’re writing

On the Sabbath, you rest, and you worship. That’s it.

 

September 13, 2012

Why Didn’t He Call The Light “Light”?

For several weeks now at Thinking Out Loud, I’ve been encouraging people to check out the Phil Vischer podcast.  Phil’s name may register with those of you with children as the creator of Veggie Tales.  There are 16 podcasts so far, and Phil is joined each week by Skye Jethani, a name familiar to both bloggers and readers of Christianity Today, and by producer Christian Taylor. Phil is a naturally funny person, and the whole show has a “radio morning zoo” feel to it; but Skye, as a pastor is more focused and while he often adds to the levity, he also rarely wastes words.  Many weeks they are joined by a guest. But why are we mentioning it here?

This past week, the guest was John Walton who teaches at both Moody and Wheaton, and specializes in Old Testament studies. Apparently he and Phil have had some previous conversations regarding Phil’s newest children’s series, What’s In The Bible, especially about the creation narrative in Genesis.

One of the comments was about this verse:

Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

John then asked, “Why didn’t God call the light, “light.”?  He said that what we’re seeing in this verse is not the creation of light, but the creation of the separators or periods of separation between light and its absence, that what we’re witnessing in this book is the creation of time.  You could say, “And God said, “Let there be time.”

I’d never thought about that before.

Much discussion early on also had to do with the apparent ongoing tension between theologians and scientists on the creation of the world.  John compares this to the difference between you telling your friends about the origins of your house versus the origins of your home.  The former has to do with land, and construction and the physical features. The latter has to do with family, and usage, and traffic patterns.  They are two entirely different stories, and he says that the Bible does not attempt to answer the house questions, and we shouldn’t expect the Bible to serve as a science textbook, because those issues are not raised in its pages.

There was also the issue of death coming into the world. John looked at the creation narrative again and told of having his students focus on this verse:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

He then asked them if Adam was clothed in skin, and reminded them that skin is epidermis and epidermis is dead cells. In other words, there was death from the beginning.

This then led to a discussion of predation. That was a new word to me.  The question is whether or not in a “new earth” — a doctrine that’s a given when you get academics together — animals would survive through killing other animals or whether as Phil asked “whales would strain plankton.” John responded that the new earth would involve a new order, and that he does not believe this will be a replication of what existed in the garden, but will involve an entirely new set of possibilities.

This particular podcast — their longest — is 67 minutes long. After the usual banter, John Walton is introduced at around 22:00, and the interview really kicks in at 23:15.  You also have to endure Phil playing the ukelele at the beginning and end of the show; once in children’s ministry, always in children’s ministry, I guess.  So even if you skip the frivolity at the beginning, you’re still looking at 45 minutes; but well worth it.  (We listened to it twice already.) This is the kind of material I love personally; what this blog’s tag line is all about: Diggin’ a little deeper.

…You might also enjoy the previous episode (# 15) which deals with the issue of heaven and the issue of the rapture. You can find that easily enough once you’re at the site; and I also wrote a set-up for that piece Tuesday at Thinking Out Loud.

Time to Re-Address The Issue of Comments
It’s been awhile since I discussed this on any of my blogs, but the time has come to revisit this thorny subject.  What we’re looking for here is comments that stem from the content of the day’s topic, and that then add something to what’s being said.  I call it “added value comments.” We’re also looking for comments that will form part of a discussion that others will want to join. If you disagree with what’s being written, say so politely; at least you will be engaging the written material. If you do agree, don’t just say “That was very good,” because Akismet, the filtering system at WordPress will shut you down every time. (Some day I’ll copy and paste a bunch of spam comments at TOL so people know what not to do.) Instead, say why a particular verse or commentary resonates with you.  If you posted something in the last month, check back, it may not be there because it was just a bunch of random verses, or it did not seem to tie in to the day’s topic. And if you find it’s not there, but you feel you have something to say, may I encourage you to start a blog of your own.