Considering Steadfast Love

typewriterOccasionally, I compose short pieces for our church bulletin. While most would consider 250 words or less shorter than the ideal blog post, allow me to share one such recent post below. If such articles are useful to you or your church for similar use, consider permission granted. Please just tag on my blog address for the sake of reference.

 

I was recently in Psalm 107, following along while listening to an online audio Bible. As I listened to the reader’s voice, a refrain emerged from the text, providing a natural focal point for my attention. Four times over (verses 8, 15, 21, 31), the writer urges us:

“Let them think the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!”

The closing line presents this slightly altered form:

“Let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”

I find value here. There is a reminder to linger, to mentally sit with the reality of God’s steady and unfailing affections toward us.

Life is fast, and days are full. Ideas and emotions, opportunities and obligations – these blast by and through us at blurring speed. And so the psalmist calls us to consideration of something secure and unchanging, something that holds us fast even when our grip feels like it is slipping.

Today friends: Breathe deep. Sit still. Open hands.

And consider the stable and stabilizing passion that flows from the Father’s heart toward you. Take root. Lean in. Consider it.

Sabbath: A Practice of Death

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailOur church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

In a short film by The Work of the People, Barbara Brown Taylor describes Sabbath as “a practice of death”. Here is some of what she means:

“At least for me, a decline in productivity is a practice in death. Productivity is the universal means of valuing one another. Sabbath is a weekly tonic built into the teaching and the fabric of the universe that once a week you’re supposed to quit being good for anything.”

She goes on to explain that the initial taste of Sabbath is typically pleasure. But if you live there for a while, it becomes unnerving. That nothing can be earned or achieved or measured, this unnerves many of us so intensely that it feels like a form of dying.

This thought becomes especially provocative when we consider Sabbath within the context of the Creation account. In approaching Day Seven, an obvious question gets asked: Why did God rest? If not for recharging or renewal, what was Yahweh doing?

At the least, He was making a statement.

Here’s what I mean.

Jesus-baptismIt’s a lot like Jesus’ baptism. As we read of his journey toward the John the Baptist and the Jordan River, another obvious questions gets asked: Why will Jesus be baptized? Sinless and in no need of forgiveness, Jesus still described the act as being for “righteousness’ sake”. Again, I say: At the very least, he was making a statement.

Jesus’ baptism, seeming unnecessary by our standards, stated the importance, value, and meaning of the act. And a most profound piece of baptism’s meaning revolves around an experience of death.

Likewise: God’s Sabbath, seeming unnecessary by our standards, stated the importance, value, and meaning of the act. And a most profound piece of Sabbath’s meaning revolves around an experience of death.

In a sentence, I’ve never met anyone who moves smoothly or naturally toward death. We are build to live; the drive for self-preservation is relentless. There’s a survival mechanism here that is right and proper. But a troubling paradox lies at the heart of the spiritual life. Being raised follows being laid down, and defeat is actually a pre-requisite to victory.

Life is found in death. Or as St. Francis said it: “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” And none of our feet move well in that direction.

So the next time you observe a baptism, remember Jesus’ statement act. The next time you squirm in stillness, recall God’s statement act. The Son’s soaking or the Father’s finishing: These are just two of many loving nudges to move us in a direction we’d never naturally choose – the way of life.

 

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • You ever squirmed with stillness or silence? What do you think was behind that?
  • How do you process this paradox that we are so uninclined to move toward the death that brings life?

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Sabbath: An Art Form

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailOur church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

sabbath holyDigging into the Old Testament concept of Sabbath provides a unexpected shock. The Fourth Commandment seems clear enough: “Observe the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” But Scripture is surprisingly silent about the specifics: How does one keep a day holy? The biblical text spells out harsh penalties for Sabbath-breakers. Additionally, stories of conflict between Jesus and religious leaders of his day indicate a strict evolution of Sabbath views between Sinai and New Testament times. Without doubt, this command was taken seriously. Yet when one considers the extensive detail which the Torah provides regarding issues like priestly garments, dietary rules, sexual conduct, dealing with mold, or managing skin conditions, the law is shockingly vague in regard to Sabbath.

Let me highlight a bizarre example to make the point. When is the last time you read Deuteronomy 25:11-12? If this passage has arisen in a recent sermon or small group discussion, then you are part of one fascinating church!

For the rest of us, let’s refresh:

11 “If two Israelite men get into a fight and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man, 12 you must cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

Okay then.

On the heels of that attention-grabbing legislation, let’s pose an honest question: How often would a nation need detailed direction on how to deal with this particular situation?

Let’s estimate. Envision a nation of 1,000,000 people (many scholars picture ancient Israel with a population around that). How many such squeal-inducing quarrels might unfold among such a group over the course of one calendar year? I don’t know the answer, but lucky for any judges, there was crystal-clear instruction on how to handle this awkward situation.

Now consider Sabbath. Sabbath was expected to be observed by every person in the nation 52 times per year. That totals 52,000,000 instances when “Observe the Sabbath, and keep it holy” is highly relevant. And yet we are not told explicitly how to do it.

What is going on here?

One clue might be found in the word “holy”. The term speaks of something set apart, different from the common. Somehow, this holy day is to be uniquely marked, distinctly distinguished from the other six days of the week.

Mark Buchanan tells a story of visiting a sick man. This successful gentleman had his rhythm disrupted by an extended illness. In conversing with his visiting pastor, the afflicted fellow processed aloud:

“I know God is trying to get my attention. I just haven’t figured out yet what He wants my attention for. He must want me to do something.”

Mark tenderly replied:

“Maybe that’s the problem: You think He wants your attention in order for you to do something. Maybe He just wants your attention.”

Stop. Relax dawnzy58Psalm 46:10 urges: “Be still and know that I am God.” Between those words is a suggestion that some forms of knowing cannot be had without being still. It is highly possible – perhaps a given – that there are times when all God wants is your attention.

It would seem that Sabbath is one of those times. Perhaps the unique marks of a “holy day” involve levels of stillness and attentiveness neither sought nor entered on other days.

If any of this is close to what it means to keep a day holy, then Sabbath is more of an art than a science. It’s not paint-by-numbers, it’s a clear canvas with a specific assignment. Sabbath-keeping demands creative consideration: What practical moves might a man or woman make toward crafting a day characterized by unusual levels of stillness and attentiveness?

Some possibilities:

SHUT IT OFF: Technology time-outs might be a most tangible mark of Sabbath in this day – what would more blatantly mark the day as different than backing away from buttons and screens? It seems no stretch to imagine that the monitoring of steps or limiting of tasks so common in Jesus’ day might revolve around texts or emails or episodes if Sabbath interpretation was unfolding in the 21st century.

SHOPPING STOPPED: I have heard people say that nothing disrupts a holiday mindset like entering a mall or mega-store. Brainwaves change the moment one enters the parking lot, and most of those waves wouldn’t be labeled “holy”! In a more general sense, shopping is an act of consumption, and consumption is common, and common isn’t holy. On a day when even ancient Israel planned to grab some extra at Manna-Mart ahead of the Sabbath, perhaps the goal of one day to revel in God’s provision without needing more is an inspired move in the Sabbath dance.

SHHHH: How about some quiet? It is amazing what happens to our insides when we feed on beautiful words or listen to moving music, when we record hidden thoughts or rest weary bodies. In my home of small children, I recognize that life cannot be entirely shut off. Some of this stillness needs modifying in different seasons. But it can still be pursued. It’s an art – be creative!

SUNSHINE: It is no accident that humanity’s origins were in a garden. Creation connects with our depths as no desk or couch or counter can. You might be an avid green-thumb, planting and nurturing and harvesting. You may just like walking. Lie in a hammock, pedal a bike, stroll in the rain, retreat to the woods. If your skin feels a breeze, odds are high your spirit will breathe. Get out there!

SHAKE-UP: Some are guided by a simple Sabbath idea – whatever you normally do, don’t do that! Change the routine. Physical workers, take it easy. Desk-folks, move that body. Word-people, lay down the book. Lone labourers, make plans with friends. If “holy” is opposite to “common”, then a measured move to “different” might lead you into a wonderful way of Sabbath.

SLACK OFF: Everyone has a list of oughts, shoulds, and need-to-do’s. But they aren’t for Sabbath. Tuck them away. Forget about them – not forever, but certainly for now.

In considering Sabbath as an art, a wonderful surprise awaits. This staunch and stuffy command turns out to actually be a life-giving word. And limits and legalism get quickly traded in for the fun and freedom generated by “keeping it holy”.

 

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • What Sabbath practices have you adopted or flirted with?
  • What would mark a day as “holy” within your usual flow of life?

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Sabbath: A Second Set of Eyes

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailOur church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

tiger woods sean foleyEven a casual sports fan knows Tiger Woods. Far fewer folks would recognize the name of Sean Foley, despite the intricate links between the two. You see, Sean is Tiger’s swing coach. It may strike some as bizarre that a world-class golfer, who has likely forgotten more about swinging a golf club than any of us will ever know, would hire as his coach somebody whose skills are apparently insufficient to make the PGA tour himself. However, everyone who has ever benefited from a counselor, a life coach, or a perceptive friend will tell you that there is great worth in having access to a second set of eyes. Inevitably, things from “out there” look a lot different than they do from “in here”. Every one of us has blind spots, none of which can be seen with our own two eyes. We need others.

When you consider the concept of time, there’s certainly no more “out there” perspective than that of God, the One who lives beyond time, in the incomprehensible realms of infinity and eternity. While we feel the pinch of living in a temporal environment and struggling to manage the ticks on our clocks, God’s perspective may prove uniquely insightful.

In seeking such insights, some have noted that the Greeks had multiple terms to speak of time. There are two that are frequently highlighted:

1) KAIROS
This term speaks of the opportunities and possibilities that exist within a moment. Any point on the timeline holds a significance that reaches far beyond itself. There is a ripeness, from which unforeseen wonders may spring. Every second is that loaded. This term (KAIROS) is the term used in Ephesians 5:16, when we are urged to “make the most of the time.”

2) CHRONOS
English speakers will see immediate links between this root and multiple terms in our vocabulary (chronology, chronicle, chronic). This term would have been particularly vivid within the Greek mind, as it was also the name of one of their gods, a particularly nasty non-headliner on the pantheon of divinities. Artwork through the ages depicts Chronos as a glutton. But he didn’t just stuff himself at the buffet; he gorged himself on his own children! Always consuming but never satisfied, Chronos is a vividly disturbing portrayal of what can happen when concepts like time, labor, and rest are viewed apart from God. Things get out of whack in a hurry: Bodies break down, minds grow weary, hearts feel heavy, and juggled balls become dropped balls. Relationships start reeling, pleasure goes missing, and joy becomes a struggle. Life feels dead, and we begin caring less about those things about which we care most.

Not so long ago, I found myself in a season of deep weariness. A cocktail of outer circumstances and inner struggle mixed perfectly to land me in a bad place. In a moment of self-conversation, I asked myself:

burnt-out-match“Jason, are you burnt out?”

I’m not so naïve as to have imagined that this question would never arise, but I always envisioned such a thought taking place 10 or 20 years from today. Even still, the inner dialogue was calm. I wasn’t in a state of panic so much as in a search for truth. I replied to myself:

“No, I don’t think so. But I have all the right ingredients in the bowl. None of them are in concentrations that would lead to burnout. But if I stir this recipe long enough, it’s not going anywhere good.”

And that’s what happens when we faithfully (or mindlessly) bring our offerings to Chronos. When we handle time recklessly, without rhythm or rest, we find our quest for efficiency or achievement to have turned on us. No longer are we stewarding time as the God-given resource that it is; we are now being nibbled at, even devoured, by a relentless and ruthless countdown. This sensation of being eaten reveals how far we’ve strayed from the order of Creation. In Eden, God ended each day proclaiming the goodness of all that had been done; it was satisfying, it was sufficient. Yet all too often, God’s image-bearers end days sighing in frustration over lists of what didn’t happen. It is not good; it is not enough. And Chronos continues to feast.

This is not as the Father designed it. And minus a second set of eyes, minus a pure perspective from way outside the rat race that buzzes daily past Chronos’ altar, we will remain trapped in days that lack the “good” substance of those first six days.

But with attention upon the Creator, Kairos is rediscovered and the life-giving potential and opportunity within each moment is once again enabled.

Sabbath can do all that!

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Have you ever experienced anything that you’d call “burn out”? How did you heal or recover?
  • What types of ways have you learned to live well within time?

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Sabbath: God is For Us

Slide1Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

In clarifying the intent of the Sabbath commandment, perhaps Jesus offered no more definitive statement than his words in Mark 2. In one sentence, he expresses the extraordinary goodness of God as seen in the laws He lays down: “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.”

BigRedBallsWhenever I’m in need of a chuckle, I search for footage of the TV show “Wipeout”. Contestants trying to navigate the “big red balls” is a personal foolproof recipe for laughter. I imagine the backroom glee that the course designers must experience as they dream up obstacles and traps through which to push willing contestants. They aren’t setting out to create smooth, trouble-free “walks in the park”. They are looking to sabotage participants. Maximize slippery and surprising, minimize success – that’s the formula for great wipeouts. And the name of the show is no accident.

As fun as that job might be, God is nothing like a “Wipeout” designer. He has no interest in creating a system and then recruiting participants (victims) to fail their way through. He hasn’t set out to create unnecessary burdens, diversions, or challenges. Instead, He births children, each one bearing His divine image. Then He sets out to meet their every need! He custom-made us, then chose us as His own, then created guides for vibrant health and life.

If anything regarding Sabbath is to be perceived clearly, it is this: Sabbath is for us!

Sabbath is for us because God is for us, and every gift from His hand is for us.

Any understanding beyond that is misunderstanding.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Have you typically considered Sabbath as a gift or as a burden?
  • If you did view Sabbath as a gift, how might you “open it”?

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Sabbath: Butcher Jesus Loves Sacred Cows

Slide1Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

Jesus-Heals-on-the-SabbathI often muse at how Jesus pushed the issue of the Sabbath. Within the Gospels, we have thirty-seven accounts of Jesus performing miracles. Straightforward statistics would suggest that one-seventh of those acts would have taken place on the Sabbath; however, we find seven Sabbath wonders, among these stories. While this isn’t overwhelming, it does paint for me a picture of a feisty Saviour. He didn’t need to heal on the Sabbath. If he would looking to be “meek and mild”, he could slotted his signs differently in his daytimer. But I imagine him eyeing the Sabbath with anticipation – not just for the rest that was to accompany it, but for the riling that he foresaw as well.

What was Jesus trying to do?

He was trying to take issue.

Jesus has a problem with people distorting the ways of the Father with too-small visions. Jesus gets worked up when life-giving gifts are mutated into death-dealing burdens. These types of silliness make Jesus angry. They also make him hungry. Such fiascoes awaken Jesus’ taste for blood – but not yours. If anything, Jesus’ dealings concerning the Sabbath give clear indication that he loves to butcher sacred cows.

BBQ JesusWhen we begin to value things more than God values them, yet expend energy convincing ourselves that our assessment is right in line with God’s, then our sacred cows come into view. And everyone has a sacred cow. Most of us own ranches full of them. One of Jesus’ hobbies is slaughtering them. After he does, he slathers them in his secret sauce, grills them, and feeds them to us. And then he lovingly watches us squirm as we awaken to the realization that our beloved Betsy’s bell isn’t clanging anymore.

Future posts will look at the practical side of Sabbath: What does it mean? How should we view it in this time and place? How might one observe? What does it mean to keep it holy?

But for today, let’s just admire the Sabbath as a still-live grenade. In his day, Jesus occasionally pulled its pin and rolled it into people’s foxholes just to see them scatter and take stock. In that sense, Sabbath will forever hold value as a case study on the eagerness of Jesus to challenge distorted values, question misplaced priorities, and nudge people to seriously consider whether they are tapped into the full life-flow of their Maker.

If that’s all Sabbath means today, it’s quite a lot.

But I suspect that’s not all Sabbath means today.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Why do you think Jesus liked to “mix it up” on Sabbath?
  • Ever had an experience when it felt like Jesus was hunting down one of your sacred cows? Did he succeed?

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Sabbath: Why We Stopped Resting

Slide1Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

tencommandAs a child, I don’t remember any mention of Sabbath. I memorized the Ten Commandments for bonus points at Bible school one summer, so obviously the word was in my vocabulary. But I don’t recall ever giving much consideration to how this ancient-sounding term might be meant to impact life today.

But Melanie changed that.

She and her family were some of the finest people I knew, and I counted her among the classmates that I most genuinely enjoyed in high school. Her family drove quite some distance to be active in an Adventist church. If the weekly commute wasn’t noteworthy enough, they worshiped on Saturdays. How weird was that! And they used the word Sabbath – it was a legitimate term, still alive in their mouths as they lived out their days in the 20th century.

WWF-Superstars-cerealSo I asked the question that every kid asks when they encounter a way of living different from his own: “Why don’t we do that?” Truth be told, I was desperately hoping we wouldn’t begin going to church on Saturdays; that would have ruined my sporting life and cheated me out of the Saturday morning cartoons and WWF served up by our three TV channels. But this was one of the earliest instances where I met someone else who valued the Bible and loved God and desired to please Him, yet did so in visibly different ways. What to do with that?

Back to Sabbath: I got my answer. Now you should know that I grew up in a fellowship of churches who prided ourselves on seriousness about Scripture and a fierce commitment to “New Testament Christianity”, a long-standing goal within the Restoration Movement from which my childhood church had sprung. In a sentence, this form of “restoration” was a deeply-convicted drive to (wait for it) restore the first-century church. (I confess to having a long list of questions about this entire venture of restoration, but that will have to be another set of posts. In this space, I share this only to provide context for what comes next.)

I don’t know who voiced it. It may have been my parents. It might have been our preacher. It may have even been whichever adult was teaching my Sunday school class at the time. The particular voice doesn’t matter, for the answer rang true from the collective consciousness of our congregation.

Q: “Why don’t we observe Sabbath?”

A: “Because Jesus didn’t say we had to do it.”

One could do lifelong study on how Old Testament laws are handled in light of the New Testament. One current example that highlights the issue well is found in the red-hot discussion around homosexuality. Many note that the Bible explicitly speaks of homosexuality only a handful of times. Some then make the move of attempting to undercut the majority of those passages, from the Old Testament, by highlighting inconsistencies in how we handle Old Testament laws. “God hates gays” (a statement I’ve never actually heard from the lips of any Christian I know) gets rebutted with “Well, God hates shrimp too.” Sharp-witted way of stating, “We’re obviously not heeding some of these old rules. Can’t we just toss them all?”

(For a brief-but-helpful explanation of how to handle Old Testament laws with integrity and consistency, Tim Keller offers these guidelines.)

How does this speak to Sabbath? It attempts to decode the meaning behind, “Because Jesus didn’t say we had to do it.” (JDSWHTDI) For some, Sabbath has been dismissed; it’s viewed as expired, unnecessary, burdensome, even unhelpful.

I don’t see it that way.

7_playing_cardsIf I had a handful of JDSWHTDI cards, I confess that I would not slap one down on the Sabbath discussion.

If the discussion revolved around cutting bacon from our diets, I’d lead the charge on playing our JDSWHTDI cards. If stoning rebellious children were the topic, loving parents the world over would lay down their JDSWHTDI cards. If circumcision were put forward as the chat of the day, you can already hear half the population slamming down their JDSWHTDI cards!

While joking somewhat, I am serious when I say: I think we need better reasons to disregard Scripture’s teaching of Sabbath. When your Maker puts out a call to regularly rest, to habitually slow, to set periods aside when “More God” is the only item on your task list – that seems to me like a time to put away your JDSWHTDI card, and instead to play your IDTUHTMTS card.

“I’ll do that until he tells me to stop.”

Just a thought.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • What do you do with the concept of Sabbath?
  • Practice it? Wonder at it?  File it away?

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