Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Lost Practice of Sabbath

Christians are pretty good about following the Ten Commandments….well, at least 9 out of the 10. Why is it that we get all jumpy about breaking 9 of them, but when it comes to us keeping the Sabbath, we take that as optional? Of course, we could get into a discussion and debate about the Law and whether we are still under the Law with the New Covenant that we have in Christ, but that’s sort of missing the point.

On Christmas day, my family started a new tradition of sorts: we sat around the house and didn’t do anything. Well, we did stuff, just nothing that would take us away from the house and if anything, things that would help us to grow together as a family and appreciate the reason that we were celebrating that day: Jesus Christ. It was one of the best days that we had as a family. There were no deadlines. There was no rush. There was peace (as much as you can have in a house with a 3 year old and a 1 year old).

I had the opportunity the other day to take a “Spiritual Renewal” day. Some friends of ours have a lake house which they graciously allowed me to use for the day. It’s about an hour away, not too far to go for a day. Considering the December schedule that I had, it was a much needed break from all of the busyness that had occupied my life for the last month or so. I spent the day resting in God. I read, I prayed, I spent time in devotion, and I appreciated the stillness of a lake in Virginia in the winter, when the activity is minimal. It even got up to about 60 degrees. It was a time for nourishing and recharging my soul.

That’s really what Sabbath is all about. The Hebrew word that we get Sabbath from is “Shabbat” which means “to cease or rest.” Do we really know what that word means? Do we know what it means to slow down? Do we know what it means to find rest, and if we do, where do we find that rest? Do we really know what it means to stop or cease everything and take a break? I know that I struggle with the idea mightily. I have a hard time shutting my brain off and just being.

The first part of Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;” Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” King David wrote in Psalm 62:1, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.” Where are we seeking solace and rest? Have we really come to grips with the fact that we serve a God who desires to give us rest?

God is willing to give us rest; he desires to give us rest, problem is that we can't stop long enough to accept and enjoy it. That's one of the reasons why it was commanded to the ancient Israelites. They needed to stop, reflect, and remember. Most of the times that the Israelites got into trouble it was because they had forgotten what God had done for them. There's a troubling passage in Judges 2 where we read, "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths." In just one generation, they had forgotten what the Lord had done for them. And what was the result? They turned away from the Lord. I would venture to guess that the forgetting didn't just happen. Over that generation, they probably started slacking more and more with the taking Sabbath and remembering all that the Lord had done for them. And then, the generation rose up that had completely forgotten.

We need to stop and rest and in our resting, we need to remember. That's really what we do when we meditate on God's word and all that he has done for us: we remember. God has shown us a history of faithfulness to his people, yet we can't stop long enough to recount that history because we're too busy, there's too much going on, and we can't quiet things down enough to hear what he's trying to tell us. I’m reminded of the story in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah is waiting for the Lord to pass by. An earthquake, a might wind, and a fire all pass and the Lord is not present there. It is only when there is a soft and gentle whisper that Elijah knows that the Lord is speaking. The thing is, I don’t think that we let our lives get that quiet to really hear that soft and gentle of a whisper.

There’s a great scene in the movie “Ray” when Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) is having lunch with a woman and he hears a hummingbird’s wings fluttering outside the window. He tells the woman that the bird is there, but she can’t hear it. He says, “You have to listen” and so she focuses her attention on just that, and she can hear it when she blocks everything else out. That’s usually the time when God speaks to us, when we block everything else out. He’s not going to yell, so we’d better start listening.

We need to come back to the lost art and practice of Sabbath. We need to find rest in the Lord and we need to get away from all of our busyness and chaos. It will be good for our souls when we do. We’ll notice a difference, and hopefully, the people around us will as well.

May God give you opportunities to rest in him, and him alone. May you find peace and comfort in the stillness and silence that happen only when you stop and take part in Sabbath.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

God In Tragedy

In his letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive enough to people who don’t believe it. The claims that Christians make regarding Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation will offend some people. Some people think that the claims are just foolish. Some people just won’t care. To those of us who believe in the salvation that alone comes from Jesus Christ, it is the power of God. But the Gospel does not need any help in being offensive.

Recently, Pat Robertson made some unintelligent remarks regarding the tragic earthquake in Haiti. At some point, his P.R. people are going to realize that he is a liability and politely ask him to retire. In the mean time, there are people who are asking him to retire in a not so polite way, both Christian and non-Christian alike. The problem with remarks such as Robertson has recently made is that because he ascribes to a certain viewpoint and belief system, he ends up “becoming” a spokesman for all of the other people who hold that same viewpoint or belief system, regardless of whether or not they agree with his comments.

My first thought after watching the news after the Haiti earthquake was, “Come on! Doesn’t this country have enough problems?” Then when I heard that Pat Robertson had opened up his mouth to allow for his unintelligent musings to pour forth, I thought, “Come on! Don’t Christians have enough problems?” As I listened to the voice of the media and the public reacting to his comments, I did my best to keep quiet. The only thing that I had said was in the form of my Tweet/Facebook status which read, “God’s judgment on Christians is that Pat Robertson is still alive!” After a few more days to process the comments and really search Scripture, there are a few things I feel the need to say.

In Isaiah 40, the prophet speaks words of comfort to the people of God. The most famous portion of this chapter is the quote, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” But a little earlier in the chapter, Isaiah poses a few questions, “Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?”

It’s in our nature as human beings to want answers, especially when tragedy strikes. But sometimes, we won’t have answers and the only thing that we can do is reach out in love to the ones who are desperately seeking those answers. If we don’t have answers, we shouldn’t create them or make them up. What’s redemptive about that? We shouldn’t presume that we understand the mind of God better than every other human being around us, that’s Gnosticism. We shouldn’t put words in God’s mouth and presume that we have the prophetic gift. In fact, prophecy is more about telling what God will do rather than interpreting what God did.

While I make no apologies for the offensiveness of the Gospel, I do make apologies for people who make it more offensive than God ever intended. It has been incredible to turn on the TV or look on the internet and to see the amount of aid and support that is being sent to the country of Haiti in the midst of this tragedy. To me, that is the correct response. I wonder if Pat Robertson sent any support to Haiti before he made his remarks or if he simply spoke the “mind of God” before he really had a chance to think about it.

Whether you are or are not a follower of Jesus Christ, I would hope and pray that you would not judge Jesus by the stupid things that his followers sometimes do and say. Know that Pat Robertson does not speak for everyone. In fact, I wonder if he really speaks for anyone other than himself and a handful of other sadly misdirected folks. In the immortal words of Buzz Lightyear, he is “a sad, strange, little man” and he has my pity! Can God work in this situation? Of course he can. Did he cause this situation? I don’t think so.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:18-22, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” We live in a fallen world where tragedy strikes, not because God willed it, but because the world is fallen. The sin of Adam and Eve have subjected ALL of creation to frustration. We are fallen people in need of a savior because we can’t save ourselves and we live in a fallen world that needs redemption as much as we do.

God can use any means necessary to speak to his people. The Old and New Testaments are full of ways that God has gotten the attention of his people. While God has spoken through an ass before (Numbers 22), I don’t think that this is a case of history repeating itself!