Sabbath: Required Religious Duty?

I have the privilege of preaching this coming Sunday about the Sabbath. Our text is Mark 2:23-3:5. I love teaching, preaching and researching about the Sabbath – it is probably one of my favorite topics altogether (along with the Holy Spirit and End Times). I’m the guy who will read straight through Leviticus and love almost every minute – not because I enjoy loads of rules, but because I love the heart behind them.

The Sabbath is, perhaps, the most defining feature of Judaism – it is certainly the most regularly observed. Sabbath recounts all of the great stories of Jewish history; it reminisces creation, when God rested; it reminds them of the Passover and their exit from slavery; it remids them of the works of Power God did on their ancestor’s behalf; shoot, it even reminds them of their disobedience, exile into captivity and eventual return. No doubt about it, the Sabbath is a central part of the Jewish faith.

It is easy to see then, why the Pharisees get so upset with Jesus when He starts messing with their rules. But for all of their ritual observance, the Pharisees missed the whole point of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for human beings, to give us opportunities for rest, enjoyment, worship and fellowship.

I want to be absolutely clear on something – Sabbath observance is a required part of Judaism for it is part of the Law. However, as Christians, we have been freed from the Law. Therefore, we are no longer required to rest one day a week or tithe 10% of our income. That is all part of Moses’ Law and we are under Christ’s Law. We could develop that thought a lot further, but I want to get to the punchline: sabbath (rest) is an optional, but highly beneficial practice for us to adopt.

Since we are free from the Law of 6 days work and 1 day rest, well, I suppose we could rest all 7 days or work all 7. In Reality, I think we are called to do both.

You see, rest is an internal attitude of the heart as much as it is an external state of the body. Is it quite possible to be doing some task and still be at rest in one’s heart. I have a card in my office that reads “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” That is exactly the attitude of Sabbath that we should carry with us as messengers of God’s Kingdom.

Now, there is a time when actual Sabbath rest needs to be taken. For instance, it is beneficial for land to lie fallow for a year to regather nutrients. If the land is allowed this year of rest, then there will be a heavy harvest the following year. In fact, it was failure to observe the Sabbath that sent the Israelites into slavery, among other things (see 2 Chronicles 36:21). I think our businesses and lives would be far better off it we embraced the Sabbath experience – we would be far more happy, joyful, prodective and peaceful… all good things for the people of God to be.

Champagne for the Soul

Amy and I are working independently through a devotional called “Champagne for the Soul: A 90 Day Experiment in Joy.” It is awesome (and I have only been reading it two days.) I thought I would share a reflection from my first day. The following is an excerpt from my journal (one of the most indispensable tools for maturing as a Christian, next to the Bible).

Like a seed pressed into soil, so is joy in the human heart. Joy must take root in darkness and pain, sorrow and suffering if it is to ever burst forth into glorious day. The dazzling bouquet of joy, which so entrances the eyes, cannot be separated from the muck and mire of life in this present evil age. I it is, then, as flower cut to decorate a table slowly fade and shrivel, so too, joy will become a pale facade, a vague facsimile lacking in substance and depth.

To be joyful in this world is an act of defiance akin to mutiny. With so many good reasons to be depressed, committing ourselves to a life of joy is wildly inappropriate. The idea is that, in order to be realistic, one must be well versed in the plights of mankind and equally sober spirited. But I say, in order to be Real, we must be like Jesus who, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame.”

To enter into our Master’s happiness is our great goal. For if we will share with Him in the fellowship of His suffering, then we will somehow attain to the Resurrection Life that cannot be dimmed or destroyed. Then we will find our minds renewed and our lives transformed until we are like Him in every way.

What do you think? How does living a life of “wildly inappropriate” joy strike your heart?

Loving Jesus 9-5

As a pastor, I have a luxury of time to pursue a devotional life that other faithful people do not have. I have been known to offer advice that I think is simple and helpful, but that doesn’t account for the reality of most people’s lives. For instance, the simple recommendation “get up 30 minutes earlier to read your bible and pray” seems innocent enough, but what if you already get up at 4 or 5 in the morning? What if you didn’t sleep at all due to caring for a newborn? What if you must jump right into work the moment you wake up? These are specifics of daily life that aren’t accounted for in generic statements and recommendations.

I am blessed to pastor a congregation of people who want to love God well and who also work long and hard hours, have young families and are involved in various other community affairs. How do we keep the First Commandment in first place with all of this going on? I am terrible at building suspense, so let me give you the punchline now, you can discontinue reading if you have a busy day: be mindful of the Spirit and obey the best you can. That’s it. Really it is that simple.

You see, we in Christianity have created elaborate rituals to let us know we are “doing it right.” We are obsessive about being “good Christians” and we have created religious phrases to enforce that belief. For instance, “quiet time” is a human invention that has destroyed the passion of many. It is nearly impossible for a mother with an infant or two to find any quiet whatsoever, let alone enough to concentrate of reading a lengthy passage of Scripture. It is true that many of the people mentioned in the bible went off by themselves to find quiet and solitude, but it is also possible to worship God wholeheartedly by picking up a crying baby, singing while doing the dishes or going for a walk in the sunshine between storms.

Our external circumstances definitely impact our spirits, but they aren’t the deciding factor in our relationship with God. It is quite possible and achievable, by even the busiest person, to cultivate an inner inclination to Heaven. This is known by many names in the Christian tradition, but a monk known only a Brother Lawrence popularized the phrase “the practice of the Presence.” I would simply call it “being mindful of God.”

We can commune with the Holy Spirit in any situation, we just have to remember to do it. There is no concrete formula to get one to remember, we just have to practice it. We don’t beat ourselves up if we forget and go several hours without being mindful of God, and we certainly don’t compare ourselves to others. Believe me, it is possible to pray for an hour totally in the flesh, and it is possible to bring Heaven to its knees with one sighed prayer of “Jesus help me.” Don’t let time or other external trappings disqualify you from pursuing God. Who says it needs to look a certain way? Who says it needs to be “quiet”? Just want Him and talk to Him – He is our Perfect Leader and is infinitely creative. He will show you how to grow closer to Him whatever your circumstance.

You are Not Your Own

I recently received a question from a member of my congregation asking what I meant when I said, “You are not your own.” I thought it was a wonderful question and, since I love talking about it, I decided to blog about it this morning.

This phrase is taken directly from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body,” 1 Corinthians 6:19,20.

The context of this verse is Paul talking about living a holy life and not being drawn into sexual immorality or idolatry. So what does this mean for us today?  Or, as my congregant asked, “how do you live for Jesus on a 9-5 job, family, and keeping up a home?” Very excellent and insightful questions – I will do my best to answer. Let me first lay the theological foundation and then next time we will look at that question very specifically.

Quite literally, this verse means that we were purchased by God from the Devil. We were all slaves to sin (John 8:38) because we all sinned (Romans 3:23). This means we were the legal property of the Devil. In order to be freed from our slaver, redeemed, bailed out, God made Satan and offer – my son for all of the rest. (It played out a little differently, but it isn’t a bad metaphor.) Satan accepted – He killed Jesus on the cross and Jesus’ suffering, death and shed blood was our ransom. We went from being the legal property (slaves) of Satan to being the legal property of God. God has since set us free from bondage to be His children.

However, Satan was caught in his own cunning, for God did not permit Jesus to remain dead. Jesus’ sacrifice set us free, then God humiliated Satan by raising Jesus from the dead – Satan lost everything when he thought he had gained a great victory. For this reason (among others) the Devil hates God and Christians and seeks to reclaim us as his captives through fear, intimidation, treachery and bribes. But I digress…

“You are not your own,” means exactly that – you are not your own. It means that we are subject to God and His authority. It means we are ultimately accountable to Him and Him alone.

But this isn’t something we are typically aware of on a daily basis, and it looks much different than we think it should. While we have been “branded” by the Holy Spirit, marked and claimed as God’s own, we have been given a large amount of freedom. God does not treat us as slaves, but as sons – friends of His Son Jesus (John 15:15). It is part of the Upside-Down Kingdom that our slavery to God makes us free and our “freedom” apart from Him makes us slaves to sin.

We have now laid the theological framework of the Cross, but still haven’t answered the question “how do you live for Jesus on a 9-5 job, family, and keeping up a home?” I will answer that next time. Until then!

Character of Royalty: Willing Service

When we think about royalty, or being royal, I fear that we mistake form for function. If that seems cryptic, perhaps a longer explanation would help.

In general, whenever we think about royalty, we think of the external trappings. We think of castles, gold, and glory. We think of elaborate feasts and all of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds court life. This is what I mean by form – all of the superficial, external and seemingly self-serving details of royal living. However, what is the function of a king? Why does he exist?

To serve.

I know that seems bizarre, after all, isn’t it the nature of kingship to be served? No, at least, not in the biblical sense. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45.

You see, all of the titles that Christians scramble for nowadays (apostle, prophet, pastor, deacon), those are all servant words at heart. But we have forgotten that. People want a title because they think it will make them important – they want to be recognized as something special. This is as anti-Christian as it comes. In fact, it is down right Pharisaical. In Matthew 23 Jesus cautions us against using titles to flatter one another. He goes so far as to say that we shouldn’t call anyone “leader” because we already have a leader (Jesus, the Anointed). Those seeking titles want the form of authority, but not the function. They want to be recognized, honored, deferred to – none of this was the thought of the early church.

Deacon literally means “servant” or “one who waits on tables”, hence the photo at the top. Pastor is “one who feeds”, like a chef or a shepherd – it also implies that they do the dishes afterward. Prophet simply means “spokesman” and apostle “one who is sent.” As you can see, these are all serving words. None of them implies innate dignity, rather, they imply a willingness to serve. To view others as better than yourself is humility – to serve others (showing them that they are more important than you) is what it means to be great in the Kingdom of God. The greatest, most honorable men and women in the Kingdom wash feet, take our the garbage, wrestle in prayer and suffer hardship. In fact, Paul frequently points to the hardships in his life as proof that he was an apostle!

So let’s do away with pomp and circumstance in the Church. Let’s embrace function and let God give us form. Let’s all take on the title “servant” and, if you really want to me great in God’s eyes, become a “chief servant” or  the “slave of all.”

To be royal is to be willing to serve. It is to be willing to sacrifice for the good of others. But it is the service and sacrifice done in secret and not for show that makes us true people of substance and depth, the very thing God desires us to be.