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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When Your Doing is Your Undoing

This beloved portion of Scripture was part of this morning’s reading (1 Peter 1:3-4) :

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Many will tune out after the first major phrase: God gives us all we need.  Within itself, that is a wonderful truth, capable of fostering trust in God as the kind and capable Provider of all, to all.

However, Peter’s line of teaching goes a fair bit further.

Not only is God committed to providing life’s needs.  He is committed to making provision for each of us to journey into godliness, the state of God-likeness for which every human being has been designed.  To approach God is to open the door for Him to give you what you need for an existence of “glory and excellence”, even before we have any aspirations or desires for such a life.

The heavyweight phrase in this passage is undoubtedly “partakers of the divine nature”.  One could muse endlessly over the implications of such a five-word package.  But at least two points are clear:

  1. God has made outrageous promises that He intends to keep.
  2. These promises center upon delivering people into this form of existence: Partakers of the divine nature.

Then, in a clarifying statement, Peter expresses that one mark of this type of life is an escape from the corruption caused by sinful desires.  This corruption is in our world because it is in our hearts, and it is God’s intention on neither public nor private scales.  The one who knows anything about God will know this, and the one who values anything about God will make every move they can think of, in that direction.  This is where Peter’s list (faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love) finds its spot within the text: Pursue these qualities in your quest to experience both freedom and fruitfulness in Jesus Christ.

Efforts aside (and there are many to make), this escape from the dark and distorting desires of our hearts unfolds only as we:

  1. Embrace the promises of God (most call this “faith”).
  2. Seek to partake in the divine nature.

This second line matters greatly, as it speaks to the motivation behind every move we make.  Minus this motivation, we fall back into lesser motivations that actually undercut the transformation process:

  • Satisfaction in self, based upon some unwritten scoring system.
  • Reputation based on others’ perceptions of us or on inner illusions of ourselves.

Both of these can motivate us, but neither of them have anything to do with being freed from tainted desires.  In truth, both of them actually feed the corrupt (ie: Self-centered) tendencies that so easily sabotage our escape route into the God-designed life of “glory and excellence”.

“Make every effort”, to be sure.  But make them with measured focus, or our doing will actually be our undoing.

Saturday Six-Pack (21)

Leaning heavily on the adage “better late than never”, I give you this week’s Saturday Six-Pack… on Tuesday!

The perk? Only five days to the next half-dozen online offerings.

As usual, these articles are mostly faith-focused or ministry-geared, with a bit of disorderly-pile-of-who-knows-what tossed in!

If you need help starting, begin with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move from there.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) The Bonds of Freedom
There is great paradox within the Christian understanding of freedom.  This piece from Christianity Today‘s Roger Olson fleshes out the tensions that differentiate Christian freedom from the version many of us fantasize about.

2) Tracking Wonder and Making More Time to Create
This non-Christian piece from Psychology Today was my morning call to prayer.  If you need more time for living, your next move is worship.  At least, that is what I read.  For the original statement, click the link above.

3) Great Quotes on Great Leadership (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Anyone who knows me knows that I love a great quote. Tim Challies offers this list of the best bits he found in Albert Mohler’s book, “The Conviction to Lead.” (He reviews the book, which he calls “probably the best book on leadership I’ve ever read” HERE.)

4) You Asked: Does the Bible Separate Salvation from Baptism?
This brief but balanced response is offered by the Gospel Coalition to a question received from a reader, a question relevant to the whole of the Christian community, and helpfully clarifying to my Churches of Christ heritage, whose views get unnamed mention in this piece.

5) Why Should We Care About Advent? (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
In regard to Advent, there’s one question that trips up more Evangelicals than any other: “Why bother?”  Elliot Grudem, for the Resurgence, offers a handful of solid reasons on why the pre-Christmas season of Advent is full of power and potential.

6) Top Ten Gandhi Inspirational Quotes
I have long loved Gandhi. I have long loved quotes.  This LifeHack offering seemed like a no-lose way to close this installment of the Six-Pack.

May your week be full of awareness and enjoyment of the God who already fills it with Himself and every good thing.  Blessings on you, my friends.

YOUR TURN: Direct other readers to the best stuff with a comment below, or weigh in on what you read.  Your input makes this post better!

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Breaking the Chains of Modernity

Some years back, my library-browsing habit led me to discover Adbusters magazine.

Typically irreligious, often irreverent, it covered matters of politics and economics with greater vigour than I’ve ever personally felt about either of them.  Provocatively creative, the publication intrigued me.

It still does.

A piece from the latest issue, titled, “Breaking the Chains of Modernity,” opens like this:

The philosophical and spiritual problems of our age are so great that what our time calls for are new manifestos of knowledge and being. We need a kind of spiritual change that exceeds the political. Unfortunately most of us in the Westernized world spend more time trying to escape from ourselves (sex, shopping, addiction, fashion, entertainment, success), than we ever spend reflecting on the state of our existence, our heart or our soul. We are people driven by our desires: desires which destroy our hearts and any ability to have a connection to the greater spiritual realities that are all around us. As the Qur’an says, “God does not change the condition of a people, until they change their own condition.”

I find an unusual power–let’s call it the power of truth proclaimed–in hearing a blatantly secular voice call out the warning that we of the Western world are senselessly seeking escape when the salvation of our souls and society most needs us to engage in deeper ways than we ever have before.

I’m not certain of the greater context of the quoted Qur’an passage, but it the point is along the same line as the Bible’s, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you,” then it would be easy for both Adbusters and myself to AMEN it.

If the passage above resonates with you in any regard, head HERE for the full article.

If these thoughts about our persistent quest for distraction has conceived a simple observation or a full-blown rant, birth that baby in the comments section below.