Christianity 201

August 20, 2021

Time Apart

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Today we’re back again at Devotions by Chris and a short devotional by Chris Hendrix. Clicking the header which follows will get you there directly.

Alone With God

I was talking with a friend recently about how technology has been both a blessing and a curse. On the blessing side, we have so much information, entertainment and communication in the palm of our hand. Never before in the history of the world have we had such access, but along with that comes the curse. We’ve lost the ability to be alone to think deeply and to pray. We’re constantly interrupted by it going off, lighting up or us using it out of habit. In times past, people had the ability to process, break down and understand the information they had because they had the ability to truly be alone with their thoughts. That ability also provided them with opportunities to be alone with God.

Exodus 3:1 says, “Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro (Reuel) his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God” (AMP). Notice how Moses was in the wilderness alone. It was then that he noticed the burning bush. Verse 3-4 says, “So Moses said, ‘I must turn away [from the flock] and see this great sight—why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he turned away [from the flock] to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” Moses turned away from his distraction, and when he did, God called out to him and met with him.

You will even find this pattern with Jesus. Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray [in seclusion].” How often do you slip away into seclusion, away from all distractions, and pray? It’s difficult in today’s world.

We must be intentional about it. Our minds will give us the fear of missing out or of being out of connection with others, but the truth is that those fears have made us miss out on encounters with God and out of connection with Him. Jesus made it a practice to break away from the crowd and noise of life to be alone with God. With all of our connectedness today, we must be even more intentional about it.

God is waiting to meet you, but you must turn away from the things that distract you first and get alone with Him.


On a similar theme:

This a short excerpt taken from a larger look at spiritual disciplines from the blog, Running to Him. The author’s name is not listed. Clicking the header which follows will take you there directly.

All In – Spiritual Disciplines

…[L]et’s bring Solitude into the picture. This one is often overlooked among the Spiritual Disciplines, even in my own life. There’s so much noise in the world around us that we don’t take time to be silent with no background noise. A book titled The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry has a whole chapter on Silence and Solitude.

The big question is how can we expect to hear from God if we don’t put in the time to listen to Him? How can we say He’s not speaking if we’re not actively listening to Him? A great way to start putting solitude in your life is to start with one minute of silence. Try not to think about anything. Try not to say anything. Most importantly, try not to have any background noise. Just silence and see how God speaks!

The next spiritual disciple that I want to highlight is another often overlooked discipline. In a world of burnout, stress, anxiety, and overworking, Rest has become increasingly countercultural. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls the weary souls to come to Him for rest. Jesus wants us to have rest! He doesn’t want us to be burnt out and stressed all of the time.

A great (and incredibly counter cultural) way to have rest and take Jesus’ light yoke upon us is to have a Sabbath, this was another chapter from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Sabbath is a day of rest and stopping. In the creation story, God worked for six days and stopped on the Sabbath. If God took a day of rest, how much more do we need rest?

This has been a hard truth for me to realize and a hard discipline to put into place… A key way to fight back against this is to see the Sabbath as a gift and not a limitation. Instead of seeing it as “I have to rest today,” view the Sabbath as “I get to rest today.” In Mark 2:27, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath wasn’t made to limit us, it was made as a gift FOR us…

July 12, 2021

What if Our “Sabbath” Isn’t a “Day?”

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In our continuing quest to discover new devotional writers to feature, I came upon the writing of Nathan Nass who writes at Upside-Down Savior. Nathan is Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I found this approach to a recurring question rather refreshing. Click the header which appears below to read this at his blog.

Rest in Christ

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
 – Colossians 2:17 NIV

“Why don’t you have your church services on Saturdays?” A conscientious Christian woman asked me that recently. It’s a great question! The 3rd Commandment says, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8). The “Sabbath day” is Saturday. Jesus worshiped in Jewish synagogues on Saturdays during his ministry on earth. Some Christian churches today insist that true worship of God must take place on Saturday. Why don’t we? Don’t we have to worship God on the Sabbath—Saturday?

No! Here’s why: The word “Sabbath” means “rest.” God did command the Israelites in the Old Testament to rest and worship him on Saturdays. The Sabbath day was one of God’s special commands to the Israelites that set them apart from the nations around them and pointed them ahead to the coming Savior, like God’s commands to sacrifice animals daily and give a tithe—or 10%—as their offerings to God. Those were good commands from God that God wanted the Israelites to follow.

But they’re not meant for you and me today. Know why? Because Jesus has come! We no longer need those rituals to point us ahead to Jesus, because Jesus has come, and we now have the real thing. The New Testament explains:These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:17). Like a shadow gives you a picture of the real person or object, the Sabbath day and all those sacrifices were shadows that pointed ahead to Jesus. Someday, a Savior would give God’s people true rest. Someday, the Lamb of God would take away the sins of the world.

And Jesus did! That’s why we’re not commanded to offer sacrifices anymore or observe the Sabbath day. We have the real thing in Jesus. The Bible says, Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

You and I still need rest. We need rest for our souls. Our “Sabbath rest” is found in Jesus, who says, Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Every day we find forgiveness and rest in Jesus. That means that Christian churches are free to worship God on any day of the week, and Sundays make a good choice because that’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead to give us eternal life. Whether it’s Saturday or Sunday or any other day, I pray you find rest in Jesus!


Bonus Devotional: Because his writings are shorter than what we usually present, here’s another devotional from Nathan.

Famine of the Word

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
 – Amos 8:11 NIV

The worst thing imaginable was about to happen in Israel. Do you know what it was? Not a pandemic or a plague. Not war or death. Something far worse than all those disasters. Listen: The days are coming, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it (Amos 8:11-12). Because God’s people had rejected him and his prophets over and over again, there was going to be a famine of the Word of God. What a judgment! People were not going to be able to find God’s Word anywhere.

Can you imagine how awful that would be? A famine of the Word of God? No word of forgiveness for your guilty conscience. No word of eternal life in the face of death. No word of comfort in the midst of strife. No Jesus. No peace. Wouldn’t it be awful to not have the Word of God? To walk through the valley of the shadow of death—alone… To deal with your sin—alone… To face everything—alone…

“God, may that never happen to us! God, may that never happen in our country!” May you and I take advantage of this incredible blessing that God has given us—the Word of God! Open you Bible each day and hear God himself speak to you. Memorize Jesus’ words of comfort, so that no one can ever take them away from you. Gather together with other Christians as often as you can. Who knows how long we’ll be able to worship openly together? These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31). There is life in the Word of God, because God’s Word tells us about Jesus. There is no greater blessing in life.

June 8, 2020

John Mark Comer: Quotations

“Too much time spent in the past leads to depression; too much time spent in the future leads to anxiety. Live in the moment.”

John Mark Comer is the teaching pastor of Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. He’s too young to have many pages devoted to his quotations, but in his four major published works, he focuses much on the concept of establishing spiritual rhythms or practices to lead a balanced Christian life. Most of the quotes which follow are from GoodReads.com and were posted by readers and voted to be their favorite quotations from each book listed below.

GC = Garden City
L = Loveology
GHAN = God Has a Name
REH = Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
CA2018 = Catalyst Atlanta 2018

Previously here at C201:

“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.”  GC


“It’s [menuha or Sabbath] 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 a mode of being than a twenty-four-hour time slot.” GC


“But the Bible claims something radically out of step with its time. It claims there is one true Creator God who made everything. And the world was born, not out of conflict or war or jealous infighting, but out of the overflow of his creativity and love.”  GHAN


“Often what we believe about God says more about us than it does about God. Our theology is like a mirror to the soul. It shows us what’s deep inside.”  GHAN


“Ultimately, nothing in this life, apart from God, can satisfy our desires. Tragically, we continue to chase after our desires ad infinitum. The result? A chronic state of restlessness or, worse, angst, anger, anxiety, disillusionment, depression—all of which lead to a life of hurry, a life of busyness, overload, shopping, materialism, careerism, a life of more…which in turn makes us even more restless. And the cycle spirals out of control.”  REH


“It’s not failure if you fail at doing something you’re not supposed to do. It’s success. Because with each success, and with each so-called failure, you’re getting a clearer sense of your calling.” GC


“Sacrifice your ambition, your drive, your work-a-holism, influence, status, pat on the back. Let all of that die or your soul will die instead and the souls of those around you.” CA2018


“Our job is to make the invisible God visible — to mirror and mimic what he is like to the world. We can glorify God by doing our work in such a way that we make the invisible God visible by what we do and how we do it.”  GC


“If your strategy in life is to live out Jesus vision of the sermon on the Mount, but you don’t change your routine to match that of Jesus, you don’t stand a chance.” CA2018


“When God describes himself, he doesn’t start with how powerful he is or how he knows everything there is to know or how he’s been around since before time and space and there’s no one else like him in the universe. That’s all true, but apparently, to God, it’s not the most important thing. When God describes himself, he starts with his name. Then he talks about what we call character. He’s compassionate and gracious; he’s slow to anger; he’s abounding in love and faithfulness, and on down the list.”  GHAN


“To restate: love, joy, and peace are at the heart of all Jesus is trying to grow in the soil of your life. And all three are incompatible with hurry.” REH


“Will we buy the lie? Go our own way, thinking we know better than God? Flip a coin and hope for the best? Or will we listen, not to the voice of the serpent, but to the Creator. Will we believe that God’s way is the best way? He is the Creator, and he’s good.” L


“Because what you give your attention to is the person you become. Put another way: the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to. That bodes well for those apprentices of Jesus who give the bulk of their attention to him and to all that is good, beautiful, and true in his world. But not for those who give their attention to the 24-7 news cycle of outrage and anxiety and emotion-charged drama or the nonstop feed of celebrity gossip, titillation, and cultural drivel. (As if we “give” it in the first place; much of it is stolen by a clever algorithm out to monetize our precious attention.) But again: we become what we give our attention to, for better or worse.”  REH


“We’re image bearers, created to rule, to partner with God in pushing and pulling the creation project forward, to work it, to draw out the earth’s potential and unleash it for human flourishing — to cooperate with God in building a civilization where his people can thrive in his presence. And in this cosmic agenda, each of us has a vocation, a calling from God, a way that God wired us, somebody to be and something to do — because the two merge in perfect symmetry.” GC


Penguin Random House did not grant us status to review the latest book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, at Thinking Out Loud or do an excerpt feature on it here. The other books are available from Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

January 24, 2020

A Countryside Walk with Jesus

Today we return to The Life Project written by Don Merritt who is concurrently finishing a series on the Book of Ruth and starting into the Gospel of Mark. This one is from the latter and starts with a walk through a farmer’s field, and then transitions to another scene which took place on possibly a different Sabbath day.

Lord of the Sabbath

Mark 2:23-28

Parallel Texts: Matthew 8:1-8; Luke 6:1-5

Mark has shifted the scene to the countryside. Jesus and the disciples, and apparently some Pharisees, are walking through grain fields on the Sabbath. They are hungry and the disciples pluck a few heads of grain to eat as they go along, and the Pharisees object, for it is unlawful to harvest a field on the Sabbath. The law on this point is contained in Exodus 20:10 if you’d like to read it just to bring in a little context. By the way, if you do look it up, you will notice that the law doesn’t say this. It says you shall do no work. Were the disciples actually working? Well, that is the real question.

As the years went by, it became apparent that Exodus 20:10 was subject to interpretation, and many well-intentioned leaders believed that there was a great potential for misunderstanding Exodus 20:10, so they adopted a very long list of additional rules to help people avoid an unintentional violation of the Sabbath. This list of rules is not actually part of the law, but as more time went by, it was treated as if it were the law itself; this is what the Pharisees were actually referring to.

In verses 25-26, Jesus cites a well-known example of David feeding his men food reserved by the law for the exclusive use of the priests when necessity required it, with the implication that necessity required the disciples’ actions that the Pharisees were objecting to. He concludes His answer in the following verses:

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28

I wish I could have been there to see the look on the faces of those poor Pharisees when they heard that!

As you know, there are those critics out there who claim that Jesus never said He was divine. Even if that were true, He sure implied it strongly on many occasions, and this is another of those.  If the Sabbath was made for man, and that makes the Son of Man the lord over the Sabbath, then it is because He’s also the Lord over Man.

Mark 3:1-6

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11

After the scene in the last section where Jesus announces that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Mark recounts another Sabbath scene, this time in a synagogue, where Jesus heals a man with an injured hand. It seems that there were some present who were interested in causing problems, and Jesus, no doubt being aware of this, asked the injured man to step forward:

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Mark 3:4

I’m guessing they also remained hopeful…

Jesus healed the man.  Mark tells us in verse 5 that Jesus was angry and distressed at the hard hearts of those who sought an excuse to act against Him… and afterwards, they began to plot to kill Him. Mark tells us that the group consisted of Pharisees and Herodians, who were of the party of Herod, the Vassal king of Judea, son of the guy who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem. Normally, those two groups were sworn enemies, but it would seem that Jesus has brought them together; man-made religion gone bad can do some incredible things in the hearts of men.

 

August 26, 2018

Sabbath: We Rest and We Worship (Part Two)

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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)

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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.

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.

 

October 26, 2017

Love’s No Tripping Policy (When Disagreements Arise, Part 2)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

You may have been surprised to find out last week that I, a Baptist Pastor, do not have a guilty conscience if I mow the lawn on a Sunday. “But it is the Sabbath, the day of rest” you might say. However, a) the Sabbath is a Saturday, and b) the Sabbath is part of the ceremonial law given to the Jews, and I’m not Jewish. Being a pastor, I already work most Sundays. Being a Personal Support Worker, my wife is required to work every other Sunday. Sunday being the Lord’s Day, we do make every effort to gather with other believers for worship, however Sunday is hardly ever a day of rest. I do keep the spirit of the law by taking a day completely off for rest every week, but Sunday isn’t it.

Now suppose you are not convinced and still feel quite strongly that Sunday is to be for every Christian, including me, a Sabbath Day, a day of rest. And suppose, for argument’s sake, that even worse than mowing the lawn on Sunday, I have now invited you to join me for a Toronto Maple Leafs game on a Sunday evening. Driving into Toronto on the 401 is anything but restful, so you think and feel that it would be wrong for either of us to go. I can see no sin in going, it will be a wonderful time especially if the Leafs win. So I insist. A disagreement has arisen. What are we to do?

Romans 14:13-23 will be of great help to us. It begins with a summary of what we learned from verses 1-12 last week: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another . . .” (v.13). That statement is for both of us. What follows, however, is for me. From it, there are three questions I should ask myself.

First, am I putting a stumbling block in front of a brother or sister in Christ?

. . . but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. Romans 14:13

Could it be, that in trying to entice you to attend the game with me, I might be a cause of your falling? The word behind “hindrance” originally has the idea of a trap. By my invitation, you may feel trapped, not wanting to go against your conscience, but not wanting to offend me either.

The Jewish Christians in Rome were feeling pressured. Bible scholars point out that with the Jews only recently being allowed to return to Rome, having been expelled a few years prior, the Jewish Christians would have felt like a minority in a predominantly Gentile-Christian church. Where in some towns the Gentile Christians felt pressure from the Jewish Christians to keep the law, here in Rome the Jewish Christians felt pressure to give up their Jewish identity. After all, “nothing is unclean” and so there is no need to worry about food being kosher or other similar matters pertaining to the Old Covenant between God and the Jews. You can imagine the pressure at Christian gatherings for the Jewish Christians to cave and eat anything and everything.

Paul shows his agreement with the “nothing is unclean” statement in verse 14, but there is a ‘but’:

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. Romans 14:14 (emphasis mine)

This verse may sound confusing, even contradictory, but it is actually common sense. Consider again my insistence that you join me for a game on Sunday. If you are convinced that my viewpoint is correct, that is fine and off we go. However, suppose you do not find my argument convincing. To you Sunday is the Sabbath and after all, Sabbath keeping is one of the ten commandments. So you are not convinced. If, however, you still end up going to the game, then what you end up in effect saying is: “it would be better for me to keep Clarke happy than God. I would rather sin against the Lord than offend Clarke.” So even if attending a hockey game on a Sunday is not a sin in itself, if you think it is, and yet you do it, you are demonstrating that you really don’t care if you do sin against God.

The emphasis here is on my actions. I ought not put you into that sticky situation in the first place! Instead I should show some understanding and be respectful of your disagreement with me. Are there situations where you may need to show some understanding?

Second, is love showing up, or am I showing off?

If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15 (emphasis mine)

Walking in love is to be the priority of the Christian. However, sometimes our priority may actually be the winning of an argument. If I am walking in love, I will be sensitive to what is best for you. Having a conversation about viewpoints is always a good thing, but leading you to go against your conscience is not what is best for you! Remembering the extent of God’s love for you, that Christ in fact died for you, I should at least be willing to let an argument go and leave off my insistence. I wonder how many conflicts within churches have smouldered on, if not escalated, not because there has been a disagreement, but because someone just had to be proven right. Are you walking in love, or are you determined to be proven right?

Third, is this a Kingdom Priority?

16 So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19 Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Romans 14:16-19 (emphases mine)

Will God’s Kingdom purposes be advanced in any way if you go to the game? Or if you don’t? When all is said and done, it really won’t have mattered. However, Kingdom principles are not held up if I carry on about your not going. Even if I am correct, the onus is on me to pursue peace and seek to build you up. Peace is a kingdom priority, winning an argument isn’t.

Disagreements between Christians about the Sabbath are nothing new. They mirror similar perspectives from New Testament times.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Romans 14:5 (NRSV)

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Colossians 2:16-17

Let us remember that we are not thinking here of disagreement over fundamental doctrines or blatant immorality. The way forward on lesser matters of disagreement is the same now as it was when Romans was written; leave off judging one another, and remember that love has a no tripping policy.

 All Scripture passages are taken from the NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.WordPress.com

October 19, 2017

Thou Shalt Not Always Keep Saying “Thou Shalt Not” (When Disagreements Arise)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

The recently retired pastor was on his way to see me, the new pastor. Getting closer and hearing a lawn mower he began to wonder what the new pastor thought of the neighbour mowing the lawn on a Sunday. He came around the back of the house, and there I was, mowing the lawn. In my defence, if Sunday is to be set apart for rest, well then as a father of a 4 year-old, a 3 year-old, and a 1-year old, there was nothing more relaxing than mowing the lawn! But did I need to make a defence? Should what the Christian does on a Sunday following church be the subject of a church tribunal on Monday? As we continue our study of Romans we will gain some perspective on this on other potential disagreements:

1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Romans 14:1-5 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Even back in New Testament times Christians were squabbling over what was appropriate on the Sabbath. Except, of course, Sundays are not the Sabbath. As a commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus on a Sunday, the early Christians chose to worship on Sundays instead of on the Sabbath, which falls on a Saturday. As I am fond of saying, every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Sunday has never actually been the Sabbath, but has become known as “the Lord’s Day” which many of us set apart as a holy day. However, even then, as I have heard author Frank Turek say during a recent podcast, “Every day is the Lord’s day”.

Back to Rome; Paul is responding in verse 5 to the fact that some Christians in Rome were thinking all Christians should observe the Sabbath, just like the Jews did, and that others thought that all Christians should exercise their freedom from the Jewish law instead. It was already well established that Jewish law was not binding on Gentile Christians, a fact we can read about in Acts 15.

There were other matters being squabbled over, such as whether one should eat meat. It was far easier for an observant Jew to keep the kosher food laws by keeping away from meat altogether, as Daniel did in Babylon. Some thought the observant Christian should do likewise. Others figured that that the kosher laws did not apply to the Christian anyway, so enjoy your protein! Paul picks up on these squabbles in verses one and two where he gives the solution: make space for each other even where there are disagreements. Rather than condemn each other, welcome each other.

We must be clear here what Paul is not saying. He is not saying that there is room for disagreement on fundamental truths. Since we are in the book of Romans, we should notice that Paul has spent the first eleven chapters contending for the truth. Truth matters! But not everything matters. Paul is not saying “welcome the heretic”. But not every disagreement is evidence of heresy. So welcome those you have disagreements with over those lesser matters.

Paul is also not saying there is room for blatant immorality. Elsewhere he condemns a church for not taking a matter of morality seriously:

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (NRSV)

Paul does not say “welcome the unrepentant person practicing gross immorality”. Though it was clear that Gentiles did not need to start behaving like Jews to be Christians, it was also clear that they could not keep behaving like typical Romans either. Morality matters. But not everything is a matter of immorality. So welcome those who disagree with you on matters such as meat-eating and Sabbath keeping.

What is being said between the lines is, to quote an old but oft forgotten cliché, that unity is more important than uniformity. Departing from fundamental truths destroys the unity of the Church. Indulging in immorality destroys unity between people. Differences in the lesser matters of religious expression destroys only uniformity.

As we think about Paul’s solution for disagreements, let us not too quickly pass over the instruction to be “fully convinced in your own minds” (verse 5). To become fully convinced about something, we must be seekers of truth. We must be open to changing our minds if the truth turns out to be something other than what we expected. The more we do this, the more we will find ourselves in agreement with each other anyway. Some may think I am Canadian based on my accent. Others may think I am from Northern Ireland based on certain expressions and the incomprehensibility of my Mum’s. All seekers of truth will end up agreeing that I am British-Canadian based on the evidence of my birth certificate and citizenship card. (Or am I Irish-Canadian?!) An honest seeking of truth and having a teachable spirit leads to disagreements being minimized, even disappearing.

Finally, where disagreements continue to exist, don’t try to get the last word, because God always has the last word. I encourage you to open a Bible to Romans 14:1-12 to see for yourself the following: If you have a disagreement with a brother or sister in Christ over a non-essential matter, please note that:

  • God has welcomed them (v.3), therefore so should you.
  • God is their master (v4), and not you.
  • God will make them stand (v.4), so why try to knock them down?
  • They are actually making their best attempt at honouring God (v.6), and not just trying to pick a fight wth you.
  • We are all in God’s hands (vv.7-9),
  • God is the judge (v.10), and
  • “each of us will be accountable to God” (v.12).

We will today, as in Paul’s day, come across Christians we disagree with. When those disagreements are not over fundamental truths, or matters of gross immorality, we can make room for them. Disagreement with other believers is not a big deal. Being ridiculous about it is.

As for mowing the lawn on Sunday, you may be relieved to know that I no longer do that. Now I send my boys out to mow the lawn instead.


Read more at clarkdixon.wordpress.com

November 16, 2016

Receiving or Rejecting the Gift of Sabbath?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Matt Perman’s blog What’s Best Next, where we discovered this post from a guest writer. Click the title below to read at source.

Throwing Sheep into a Pit: The Discipline of Sabbath Rest

Guest post by Rachel Poel

When I was a student, I would justify studying on Sunday by quoting Matthew 12:11-12: “He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” But many weekend afternoons, exhausted from a full week of classes, work, and studying, I would put off studying for a Monday morning test or drafting a paper due on Tuesday—effectively throwing that sheep into the pit myself.

Taking a Sabbath takes intentionality. Resting well is hard work.

There will be days when sheep are leaping into pits, when your kids all get the flu on a Sunday or your venue falls through days before a retreat. When these days come, do that work well. Your standing before God does not depend on how clear your Sunday schedule is.

But if you find yourself regularly planning projects for Sunday afternoon, consider the heart of Sabbath. God calls us to join Him in His rest. He gives us the Sabbath as a gift: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).

How are we receiving this gift?

We don’t rest to maximize our productivity later.
We rest to remember that our worth does not hinge on our productivity.

Our struggle to let go of our to-do lists and inboxes for a day shows how much we really need this rest. We don’t rest to maximize our productivity later. We rest to remember that our worth does not hinge on our productivity. We rest because we are children and God is the Father. We rest because we are creatures and God is the Potter. We rest because we are saved and God is the Savior.

How will you plan this week to take time to know that God is God?


Rachel Poel recently graduated from Wheaton College with a BA in English Literature. Since graduating, she has been working on projects with Boldface Why.

July 19, 2015

It’s Not a Vacation if You Take Everything with You

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Maybe it’s the pace of life increasing generally, but more and more devotional writers are turning to the theme of rest. Today’s thoughts are from the blog Inspire a Fire, appearing here for the first time. The author of this post is freelance writer Cathy Baker. Click the link below to read at source.

Why Soul Rest Begins With Leaving Our Laptops At Home

 “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14

What marks the beginning of your vacation? Is it the moment you fill your gas tank and begin merging with fellow vacationers onto the highway? Or maybe the sound of satisfaction that comes as you slam your car trunk for one last time before heading out?

For me, vacation actually begins a week prior to the filled tank and loaded trunk. If you’re a list-lover you know the release that’s felt while listing out all the needs for the trip, followed by the sense of accomplishment as each one is checked off before packing it away. Books, magazines, laptop and reading glasses always top off my list. Last year, however, I felt the tinge of a holy adjustment coming my way every time I glanced at the word laptop.

Granted, with three grandchildren in tow there wouldn’t be a desire nor the time to peruse the internet, check and respond to email, or write blog posts during the day hours. I do, however, admit that skimming the internet before bedtime is one way I relax so taking the laptop has always been a no-brainer.

Then I came across Emily Freeman’s post Why Rest Takes Courage. Her final paragraph clung to my soul like a child refusing to leave her mother:

The details of soul rest may look different for each of us, but probably includes some combination of silence, solitude, nature, your people, and the willingness to come into the presence of Christ and simply be ourselves.

The Holy Spirit spoke tenderly and clearly—I was to leave the laptop at home. And I did, which resulted in a few unexpected discoveries along the way:

  • I felt ambushed by the uneasiness that crept up on my holy adjustment as our departure day drew near. What did I think I’d really miss in 7 days?
  • A new-found freedom emerged as I carried out my beach days with little to no thought of the laptop. I felt no obligation to check Facebook or email. I tried to rest in the fact that if someone didn’t receive an immediate response from me, all would still be well in the end.
  • I lost nothing by leaving my lap top behind but I did gain a type of rest that was both soothing and energizing, leaving me with a renewed appreciation for God’s promptings as well as His people.

I’m not suggesting everyone should leave their laptop behind, but I don’t see it reappearing on my family beach trip list again. Ever. The soul rest Emily eluded to in the above quote was mine for the taking in the combination of silence, solitude, nature, my peeps, and most of all, in trusting that the presence of Christ was enough. More than enough.

So, how about you? Have you left your laptop or other device behind while on vacation, and if so, what’s one thing you learned as a result?

 

Taking time off is not a punishment or a dare or a rule. It is a gift.

– Emily P. Freeman

It’s taking a day to open your hands toward heaven and acknowledging that you don’t make the world go around.

-Emily P. Freeman

June 15, 2013

Heart Guarding

The theme of guarding your heart turns up frequently on devotional blogs, but it’s something we need to be constantly reminded of. This post by Mike Brown appeared at the blog We Are Soma under the title, The Discipline of Guarding Your Heart. Soma is a network of 18 U.S. churches, and Soma School is for existing or potential church planters. Learn more at WeAreSoma.com

 Simply re-arranging the furniture of my life without pulling up the root of the sin that so easily entangles ensures yet another crisis where I am left defining myself by what I do, or don’t do.

When looking at every relationship I have through the lens of discipleship, I am always asking three questions. What do they need to know in order to develop a Biblical mindset about God, themselves and the world? Who do they need to be in order to maintain a close walk with Jesus where His kingdom is first in their heart? What do they need to do in order to live a life consistent with the truth of the gospel?

These are not bad questions, but due to my personality bent, I have given undue attention to the areas of knowing and doing, instead of being. I can teach and train anyone to grow in the knowledge of Jesus. I can imitate and model for others what action that flows out of the gospel looks like. What I can’t do is change someone’s heart, from which all knowing and doing stem. In Proverbs 4:23, King Solomon says

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life”.

Solomon says that above all else, we are to guard our hearts, for that is where every external thing in our life comes from. Merely focusing on knowledge or action without examining our heart motivations is a curriculum to develop Pharisees, not disciples.

My own heart is drawn astray when I am tempted to look at someone’s knowledge of, and obedience to the gospel as the mark of maturity. Yet I have both seen and been the man whose knowledge and obedience are based on fueling the idolatry in my own life, rather than being a reflection of my love for Jesus.

In Proverbs, the heart is seen as the source of all action. It is assumed that it will constantly be under attack, thus to need to guard it with vigilance. We know the Bible teaches that our heart is the essence of who we are as a person made in the image of God. How do we care for our heart in a way that ensures it stays a source of clean fresh water which purifies all of our thoughts and actions?

God led me beside still waters and restored my soul in such a unique way last year that I’m beginning to finally understand the value of rest. I was becoming increasingly concerned about the tone of my voice with my wife, my children, and my church. I was becoming aware of just how many nights I put the kids to bed, spent some time talking to my wife, then went to my laptop “to get a head start on my busy day tomorrow”. I was becoming more susceptible to believe the praise of others about my strengths as well as being crushed by the criticism of my weaknesses. Through the help of a godly community committed to seeing how the gospel speaks a better word over me (Heb. 12:24), I realized that my heart was looking to my productivity as the source of my strength. So, I stopped.

I took several months off to rest. I needed to know my identity was found in Christ, not my preaching. I needed to know the tone of my voice with my kids wasn’t dependent on how good or bad a day I’d had. I needed to see my wife as a God given help to me, not just a partner in life. I needed to care for my church in a way that reflects the self-emptying, sacrificial love of Jesus. I became a part of the community, rather than the guy in charge. I took a vacation where spending the whole day doing nothing but playing with my kids was the work of the ministry. I stopped basing my well being on how much I got done that day.

Through God ordained Sabbath rest, Jesus teaches us how to guard our heart. By resting, we are able to identify our affections and adjust our intentions.

When we take time to step off the treadmill of productivity, and can no longer gain an unhealthy sense of worth or value from our output, we are able to clearly identify the affections of our hearts. What is currently driving my thoughts and actions right now? What am I am showing that I love more than Jesus by the mental and physical energy spent pursuing it? Is rest something I do when all my work is finished, or a discipline practiced regardless of how much work is left?

Only after the Spirit leads us to identify where our affections lie can He teach us to adjust our intentions. Heart change will lead to a renewing of our minds and a re-evaluation of our actions. What needs to be left undone in order to pursue something better? Am I willing to let people down in order to live consistent with a heart that desires Jesus? If my intention is to glorify God and enjoy Him, what needs to be adjusted in my life in order to achieve that?

Simply re-arranging the furniture of my life without pulling up the root of the sin that so easily entangles ensures yet another crisis where I am left defining myself by what I do, or don’t do.

Sabbath rest is a command by God designed to bring life. Only when we see those things in our lives that poison our hearts can we view rest not as a burden, but as a gift from our Heavenly Father, who is always at work restoring our souls.

April 19, 2013

Six Days Shalt Thou Labor

Exodus 20:9 (NIV)

Six days you shall labor and do all your work

I couldn’t help but notice this passage a few weeks ago. As I read it, I thought about the number of families that are faced with massive household consumer debt, and wondered if perhaps this offers a solution. Even if one of the income earners in a house picked up something on Saturday, that could mean an extra 20% income, provided such jobs were available.

But the note in my NIV Study Bible was somewhat dismissive, saying something to this effect, ‘A shorter work week in an a modern industrialized culture is not in view here.’

Furthermore, we focus on the distraction of the six-day work week here at our peril, because our entire attention in this commandment should be devoted to the practical and spiritual implications of the concept of cessation from labor for the purposes of sabbath rest (i.e. to rest as God rested, to give God worship, etc.).  The Voice Bible says in essence that you’ve got six days to get everything else done, the seventh is a day of rest.

You have six days to do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath of the Eternal your God…

Still, I believe we skip a possible secondary takeaway from verse nine too easily, especially in western society where ‘long weekends’ and ‘casual Fridays’ push us further and further toward a four day work week.  It’s said that we live in a culture of entitlement, and certainly we feel we are entitled to enjoy a certain degree of comfort and a certain number of consumer goods; so we amass great levels of personal debt to obtain those things.

While we should be pleased if our employer offers us extra work that will help reduce that debt, our labor laws insist that we be paid overtime, which means the employer thinks twice before offering us extra hours. And I do wonder what the agriculturally-based readers of the Decalogue in Moses’ time would think of our modern concept of vacation.

The website Theology of Work Project looks at different areas where the Bible addresses this topic.

John MacArthur notes the erosion of the work ethic in a sermon devoted to this topic that you can either read or listen to online.

When God doesn’t matter anymore, then there is no universal, transcendent standard for behavior. And natural human corruption runs rampant to the degree that any individual person chooses to live. And one of the basic moral virtues that disappears in a culture is work…work. People once worked hard because of the influence of Scripture and because Scripture is a reflection of the will of God. God is the authority and the Bible is the revelation of His will as that authority. Work, you see, is a virtue, work is a moral behavior.

People worked hard because they believed they were accountable to God and they were accountable to the revelation of God in Scripture. They had reverence for biblical authority and they had a basic fear of God. Even those who weren’t particularly evangelical Christians understood the place of God in society, understood the place of Scripture in society that it was the will of God and understood they had a transcendent responsibility before God to behave in a certain way. Now that God doesn’t matter, and the Bible is ridiculed and removed, if not banned from speaking authoritatively on any subject, there is a kind of fearless immorality. And one of the things that’s going to disappear is the virtue of work…the virtue of work. Sinners are happy to think that they answer to no one, but to themselves.

And later

Somebody made the suggestion that originally man was a gardener and the curse turned him into a farmer. Originally man was a flower arranger, and the curse turned him into a plow horse. The Fall did not introduce work, it changed its nature. And as the nature of work that is the punishment, but not work itself. Work neither began nor ceased with the Fall, it just took a different shape. It went from being a righteous blessing solely to being a righteous blessing with a curse on top.

And so, man seeks to restore the glory of work with the sweat of his brow, and all of his ingenuity he goes after this cursed earth, using the wonderful creative gifts that he’s been given because he’s in the image of God to abstract out of the richness of this planet everything that he can possibly extract, to provide value to his life, to provide meaning to his life, to provide provision for his life and those in his family, to provide for the needs of others and most importantly to bring dignity upon himself as one made in the image of God who demonstrates God-like creativity…

…In Psalm 104 we read, “He made the moon for the seasons, the sun knows the place of its setting. You appoint darkness and it becomes night in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God. When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens. Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening.” God has ordained that men work originally six days a week here. You go to work in the morning and you finish in the evening. Work is designed by God to redeem the curse in a measure. You look at the civilized world, you look at the world that has flourished, you look at the western world in particular, and now, of course, many ascending nations in Asia and other parts of the world, and you see the magnificence that is extracted out of the creation by work. Go to Africa, and you see parched lands, starving people, murderous tribal warfare…people don’t work. It’s a tragic reality.

Work was always God’s design for us to be able to draw out all that is in this creation for the demonstration of our nobility being created in the image of God and for the glory of God and for the benefit of all man. It can be redeemed. It must be redeemed and that’s why we work. You know how that works. You redeem your yard every week. And if you went away for six months and came back, you would find out what the curse would do…just no water for six months, that will do it. Or just open all the windows and doors in your house and leave for six months and come back and see what’s inside. See what lives there. It’s a battle and we all understand that battle. We extract goodness out of His creation. That was Adam’s job and now we have to fight against the curse to extract that goodness. We are called to that work because it is noble and because it is God-glorifying.

This is a sermon/article rich with commentary on this topic, and I encourage you to click the above link to get into more of it.

I offer this today not to try to bring back the six-day work week, but rather to allow us to reconsider our attitude and our approach to the five-day work we do.


The Reformation Study Bible offers a theology of work:

God’s purposes in ordaining work

That people should be self-supporting Ge 3:19 See also Ps 128:2; 1Th 4:12

That people should find self-fulfilment Ecc 2:24 See also Pr 14:23; Ecc 3:22; Ecc 5:19

That people should serve others Eph 4:28 See also Pr 31:15; 1Th 2:9; 1Ti 5:8

That people should glorify God Col 3:17 See also 1Co 10:31; Eph 6:5-8 pp Col 3:22-24

Consequences of viewing work as God’s ordinance

Work is seen as a moral duty Tit 3:14 See also Pr 6:6; Ecc 9:10; 1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:7-12

Any legitimate work may be seen as God’s calling Ge 2:15 See also Ex 31:1-6; Ex 35:30-35; Ps 78:70-71; Mt 13:55 pp Mk 6:3; Ro 13:6; 1Co 7:17,20-24

Work is seen as a stewardship from God himself Col 3:23-24 See also Mt 25:14-30 pp Lk 19:12-27; Eph 6:5-8

February 6, 2012

Jeff Mikels Fields Some Questions – Part One

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I love it when pastors do a Q&A (question and answer) session after their sermons.  It creates immediacy and a bit of vulnerability.  Jeff Mikels is the pastor of Lafayette Community Church in Indiana, and had a few leftover questions that made it into his blog. 

Some of the questions may apply to your interests.  Each question is a link to the full article.  The first one is complete, but for the rest you’ll have to click to read the full answer.  You should leave specific comments on the applicable article.  I like the quality of his answers to the point where I’m going to steal three more here tomorrow!

The Church: Can you be a Christian without going to church?

This past Sunday, I ended our service by taking some live questions from the congregation, but I wasn’t able to address all the questions live. Therefore I’m tackling some of them through this blog.

Does this mean that you cannot be a Christian unless you go to church?

The simple answer is that you can be a Christian without going to church if you define “Christian” to mean “I have been saved.” (Salvation does not depend on going to church or anything else you do. It is a gift from God. See Ephesians 2:8-10). You can also be a Christian without going to church if you define “church” as “an event where I show up, sit, soak, and leave 60 minutes later.”

However, if you define Christian to mean “follower of Jesus” and if you understand “church” to mean “the universal family of God, specifically expressed in local fellowships” then you can’t be a Christian and intentionally avoid the church. Reading the rest of Ephesians will make it clear that God did not save us to be isolated individuals destined for heaven. To the contrary, Jesus died for us to cleanse us of sin and thereby bring us into God’s family! Reading 1 John will remind you that you can’t love God and hate his family.

Even more strongly, John speaks of people who were once part of his church and then decided to leave the church:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. — 1 John 2:19

To state it strongly, every true follower of Jesus will pursue frequent fellowship with other believers that involves locality, leadership, mutual submission, expression of gifts, discipleship, evangelism, ministry, and worship. Any fellowship expressing all of that is rightly called a church.

The Father: God’s will and human freedom

At the end of our service last Sunday, I took some live questions from the congregation. An interesting pattern revealed itself. Here are all the questions that came in:

  • How do you mix all knowing, all powerful, and free will? Do we mess up his plan? Or does he choose not to know what we are doing so as not to compromise our free will?
  • Can you expand the reality of God’s power & righteousness as it applies to being in or “outside” of God’s will?
  • If the Bible doesn’t discuss a particular issue, is the answer always “It’s God’s Will”?
  • If God knows the future, why did He create us if He knew we would fall?

Each question came from a different person, but nearly every question addressed the issue of how God’s will relates to human free will.

The relationship between God’s will and human free will is nearly as complicated as understanding how God is by nature one and three at the same time. However, it’s far less essential to our understanding of God than is the notion of the Trinity, so there has never been consensus among Christians regarding how the two relate. There are many different ways Christian scholars have understood the relationship…  [continue reading here]

The Church: Why Sundays?

This past Sunday, I ended our service by taking some live questions from the congregation, but I wasn’t able to address all the questions live. Therefore I’m tackling some of them through this blog.

If the church is the community of believers who are to be continually gathering and working to build the kingdom, why do we meet on Sunday mornings the way we do? How does this fit and/or conflict with the picture of the church in Acts?

 

One of the claims I made on Sunday was that modern day people who say things like “I don’t want to go to church, I want to be the church” as an excuse to not be a regular part of a local church are fooling themselves. Of course, I agree that no one should merely “go to church” because in the Bible, “church” isn’t something you go to. “Church” in the New Testament refers to the people not an event or a location. Therefore, no individual can “be the church” because “the church” by definition (based on the word Jesus used: ekklesia) is an association of people. If anyone is “being” the church, they are being the church with other people.

Anyway, in discussing that point, I reminded everyone that if they don’t want to go to church on Sunday, they don’t have to. They could do what the first century Christians did and meet every day in public places and in people’s homes. I was speaking a bit facetiously because I knew that the expression of Christianity found in the book of Acts would be rather difficult to reproduce in the hustle and bustle of modern American society.

Nevertheless, this question (quoted above) is profoundly applicable to us today. Basically, the point is that if first century Christianity was so “organic” and ingrained in every part of life, why do we reduce modern Christianity to Sunday worship?

I have to answer this question by dealing with it in two different ways…[continue reading here]

November 19, 2010

96 Words

We spent much of Thursday driving, and at one point, we were able to pick up a Christian radio station that interrupted its music format for frequent two-minute teaching moments with various authors and preachers.   They all tended to blur together, so forgive me for not remembering which voice was which.

One of these brief moments focused on the Ten Commandments; particularly the fourth one, which talks about resting on the sabbath day.    He noted that other, better remembered commandments are dealt with in four or five words — we’re not sure what translation he used — while that sabbath commandment used 96 words.

From Exodus 20, he contrasted:

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

and

13 “You shall not murder.

with

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 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.

Yes, that is a lot of words.   It provides the historic background in which is contained the theological underpinnings of sabbath rest.   It covers all the bases, closing loopholes for getting for getting the kids, the employees, any non-Jews, or even your animals to do whatever job you feel needs doing.   The commandment isn’t just for you, but for anyone who falls under your authority.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a message on rest.   One of our local pastors, having just finished Mark Buchanan’s book, The Rest of God, noted that we tend to rest from our work, whereas the Bible seems to promote working from our rest.   In other words resting, in order to work.

But 96 words?   I think God didn’t want us to think this one was less important than adultery or murder.   I think he really means business about this one.   Or, more correctly, shutting down business.

For more on this, visit Rick Apperson’s columns here and here.

September 13, 2010

Some Monday Thoughts on Sabbath Rest

This is from Stanley Groothof who blogs from British Columbia (BC) Canada at the blog, The 4th Point.   It was written mid-July…



My family recently returned home from a sunny, week-long vacation at Lakelse Lake Provincial Park near Terrace BC. Once again I experienced how resting can be hard work.  It does not come naturally to me.  I might step out of the office and leave the building, but I’ll still take my work with me in my mind – thinking over sermons, wondering about particular people, planning meetings and ministries.  My body might be out of town, but sometimes it takes two or three days before my brain begins its vacation.  And often a day or two before our scheduled return, my brain already begins thinking it’s back in the office.  Just because we say we’re resting or just because it looks like we’re resting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are!

Taking a break is not easy.  It means letting go, and I have a hard time doing that.  I want to stay involved (read: I don’t want to be out of the loop and/or not in control).  I want to be continually productive (read: I don’t want to disappoint people who might get the impression I’m lazy).

Nevertheless God tells me and you to take a break, to engage in Sabbath rest.  In His mercy, He does not want to watch us burn out, even if it’s by doing good and worthwhile things.  Our physical and emotional health is important to God.

But I think even more importantly, in telling me to rest, God is inviting me to trust.  He reminds me that the world will not spin off its axis if I take a break.  In her book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Marva Dawn speaks of God’s Sabbath invitation to rely on Him, to “let God be God in our lives” (p. 29).  Sabbath rest teaches me to recognize when and where I am trying too hard on my own to secure my future without trusting God or sensing His presence.  Rest keeps things in perspective.

I like Mark Buchanan’s double definition of Sabbath.  In The Rest of God, he has the familiar definition that it is a day, typically Sunday in the Protestant tradition.  But he also defines Sabbath as an attitude:

A Sabbath heart is restful even in the midst of unrest and upheaval.  It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling.  It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea.

You will never enter the Sabbath day without a Sabbath heart. (p. 4)

It doesn’t come naturally (spiritual disciplines typically don’t), but part of trusting God means resting, observing Sabbath – Sabbath moments, Sabbath days, Sabbath seasons.  It lets God be God.  And it helps me be better at being the me God wants me to be.


…Read more about sabbath:  Our graphic (above) is from an article on this subject at Sweet Tea Theology.

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