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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Genuine," a word for Evangelism

A famous pastor tells of being bedside as a pastor he admired was breathing his last breaths on this earth. The dying pastor was said to have repeated, "One more for Jesus. One more for Jesus." He died with these words on his lips. Clearly, this was a man who was driven to help people become believers, and the famous pastor who wrote up this account deeply admires the man and the evangelistic spirit.

I do too. I don't always burn with such fervor. In some ways, I wish I did. I wonder why I am not always as focused and ambitious and hungry when it comes to evangelism. Sometimes I am, but not always, and maybe not often enough. One thing I do know. I don't want to become so evangelistically ambitious that I don't see people.

What I mean is this. People outside the church aren't to be categorized as "lost." When they come into the church, they shouldn't be moved to another category: "prospects."

And if, after coming into church, they happen to receive Jesus and become born again, and my witness was a part of it, I don't get to store that conversion as a credit on my evangelical scorecard. We're not talking about "the lost," "prospects," or any other categorization we might come up with. We're talking about people.

Jesus loved people before they every made a decision to follow him or not. In fact, in the case of the rich man who wanted salvation, Jesus knew he would walk away from the chance to be a disciple. Knowing this man's failure was coming, Jesus "looked at him and loved him" (Mark 10:21). The love was not tied in any way to the response to the gospel. Jesus loved the man no matter how he responded.

That's genuine love. Sometimes, I get the sense that some Christians relish the idea of the lost going to Hell, so they will get what's coming to them. I truly believe someone is lost without Jesus. Much of the time, I tune God out and rely on myself, and in those moments, I am lost. "Lost" describes me, or anyone, more than it categorizes. Evangelism should not be the goal of saving the lost; that is a result of evangelism, but the goal should be loving people because Jesus loved us.

So how do we love? We spend time with people - lots of time. This is either repeated exposure, or long, intense exchanges. And along with that, this includes casual times where the talk is gardening or the Oscars or cars or some other surface level topic. We love by presence and by time.

We also love by listening. People need to be heard. At the evangelism conference we attended last month, we heard a twenty-something person sharing on a video. She was dressed in all black, including fingernail polish and lipstick. She expressed deep wounds in her soul. And she begged for people to her hear. In that regard, the need to be heard, she was in the same boat as the plumber or the pencil-pushing accountant or the hip-hop dancer or anyone else. We all need to be heard. Evangelistic listening involves hearing the other, honoring them whether we agree with them or not, and responding with compassion and in a judgment-free way.

Genuine love - spending time, listening evangelistically - this paves the way for conversations about God and knowing God and what it means to go to heaven and what it means to know God as we live this life. Those conversations mean so much more than just getting "them" saved when the conversations are done in relationships where there is genuine love. How does the well-known scripture go? "For God so loved the world." We are called to love the world.

Of course we want the chance to help people know Jesus. But how we go about it is as important as what we accomplish. The method matters. So, yes, we go and share the gospel of salvation that is given to all who come to Jesus. We tell that story, the story of the cross. We tell it to people who know that we love them because before we ever started telling, we were there, listening, giving genuine love

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:1

How does God get the message across to us? Do you remember from reading the Bible how God spoke at different times in the past? God appeared to Abraham as three men, three strangers. For Moses, it was a burning bush. Balaam, the pagan seer, heard God when his donkey spoke to him. And the prophet Elijah heard God in the silence. The prophet Jonah had to spend some time in the belly of a whale. And Daniel, in exile in Babylon, heard God’s voice in his dreams.

Actually that happened several times. Throughout the Bible God or God’s angels spoke important messages to people while they slept. But not the Apostle Paul. For him, it was a blinding light as he walked down the road. And John of Patmos heard God speak when God inspired him to write Revelation. John was worshiping on the Lord’s Day, he was in exile, and the risen Jesus came to him.

What about today? How have people heard God’s communications? Over and over, I hear of people who stand at the seashore and are overwhelmed by the vast ocean. It happens in the mountains too. People see the expanse, the majesty, the view, and the beauty, and somehow, they hear God. Nature does it – forest, fields, hills, mountains, rivers, the ocean – it makes us ready for God.

Does God still speak in dreams? I think so. And what about through other people? I certainly think God speaks through others. And through events. One of the guys, a guy from another church, who is going to Ethiopia with us in April said he started seeing El Caminos –you know, the car – and that was his confirmation that God was telling him to go on the trip.

How has God spoken in your life? When do you hear him? Or, what moments, those moments when you know everything has changed because you have met God – what moments has God used to get your attention and speak and you heard? What has God said in your life?

At the end of a parable Jesus tells in Luke 16, he makes the statement that the Law and the Prophets – by that he means the Old Testament – should be enough to get God’s word across.[i] The Bible contains God’s message and we who want to follow Him and worship Him and be in relationship with God should read it and in reading it, we know what he has to say.

In Hebrews chapter 1, the camera zooms in for a close-up on God’s message. “In these last days,” says verse 2, “God has spoken to us by [His] Son.” Yes, we have the Bible. Yes, these days, our time, are the last days. We are in the end times. We don’t know if the end times will last another century or millennia. We are in the end times. We have the Bible, and more pointedly, we have knowledge of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Everything that came before Jesus in the Bible pointed Him. Everything that comes after His story in the Gospels grows from his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promise to return.

“In these last days God has spoken to us by [His] Son.” What has God been saying when he spoke to us and is speaking to us? Verse 1 of chapter 2; God had spoken. “Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” That danger, that we might drift away, is always there. Of all the New Testament works, the book of Hebrews touches on this idea of drift acutely. It is more fully laid out in chapter 6. Here, we see the implication. God had spoken and is speaking, in Jesus. We have to pay attention so we can hear what God has to say.

God created everything through Jesus. When we look at Jesus, we see God’s glory. When we look at Jesus, we see purity. And verse 4, “having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” I confess, I find that somewhat confusing. I don’t know exactly how to conceptualize Jesus’ superiority and I don’t know what it is about the name and I don’t know what it means that Jesus had to inherit the name. This same passage declares Jesus’ eternity –he was the agent of creation. The same claim is made about Jesus in the Gospel of John and in Colossians.[ii] My own confusion doesn’t scare me because what is clear is God says his son is creator, is glory, is purity, and is sovereign.

What else? In Jesus, what else does God have to say? “He made purification for sins; he sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high.” Jesus takes that which is stained and cleans it.

February in the United States is a time to face up to some of the ugliest sin in our history. It is the beginning of Lent, a time of repentance, turning from sin, and turning to Jesus. And it is black history month, a time to honor the contributions of black people have made for the good of America and more so for the good of the human race. Even as we celebrate black history month, we realize the shame. Our nation, for more than half our history enslaved, demoralized, and abused black people. Then once civil rights were granted, we maintained limits on what people of darker skin could accomplish. Even if the law said blacks has equal rights, the businesses weren’t letting people of color be CEO’s. The sports teams weren’t letting our black friends, our black brothers be head coaches. Historians only give one month to recognize contributions of women and men of African descent. In politics, blacks had limited success. Not until this century did a black coach appear in and wind a Super Bowl. It still has not happened in college football championships. Finally in this century, the presidency of our nation is not restricted to white men from upper middle class backgrounds.

And what about the contributions in history of Native American Indians? Of Asians and Hispanics and Jewish and Arab Americans? If it feels like I am shoehorning race into a conversation about the book of Hebrews and what God has to say through Jesus, consider Jesus in our context. What does Jesus see when he sees our world? One thing he sees is sin, on the move, getting more flamboyant and becoming louder and bolder. Hebrews says every transgression receives a just penalty (2:2). The witnesses to this truth are listed in chapter 2 – the Lord; those who heard the Lord, mainly prophets like those listed in the Old Testaments, Samual, Nathan, Elija, Elisha, and the prophets with books named for them; signs, including Babylonian exile, Roman occupation, and the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. All these witnesses testify that God will not tolerate sin. We have a lot to worry about.

Yet Jesus sees us in our lost, fallen state, and he weeps because his heart is broken. If you don’t connect at any level to what I mentioned regarding sin, then think of yourself when you are at your absolute worst. Think of yourself when you have messed up to the point that you are mad at yourself. You hate yourself in those moments. Jesus is weeping tears of love because he loves you. The good news, the gospel is though we are sinners, he purifies. So we come begging forgiveness and he gives it. He gives us white robes to declare we have been made clean. This is what God has to say.

What else?

Hebrews 1:8, “Of the Son he says,‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’” This is something said about Jesus, that he reigns eternally. But what this says about him is also a message through him that God gets to us. Remember most of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, is spent in the throne room of Heaven. Jesus is right in the middle of that throne room. In Revelation, he is called a Lion and also a Lamb. He is both. From his throne, John, the one receiving the revelation, sees a multitude. The crowd is so numerous it cannot be counted, but John is sure that he sees people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. In our prejudice and sin, we divide people and teach our children to hate others. But Jesus cleans up the mess we’ve made and all people are brought together, united at his throne in Heaven.

In our worship service today and churches around the world, we rehearse this joyous union. We take the bread which represents our sins and the cup, Jesus’ blood, and we say that we’ve heard what God has to say. We admit that without Him, we cannot teach ourselves to come together. We need Him. We depend on him for peace, brotherhood, and unity. God has said we will have that, in Jesus.

What else? What else does God have to say that we can only hear when we are in Jesus, looking to Him, listening to Him?

One author[iii]thinks Hebrews might have been composed as a sermon. That’s why it’s so different than most other letters. In first century sermons, the accepted style for opening a sermon was to heighten the listener’s attention by naming the main points. The opening four verses of Hebrews, in the original language, were all one long, clause-filled sentence. In that sentence, we see God speaking even as we say he speaks through the Son.

He appointed [the Son] heir of all things.

Jesus sustains all things.

When we talk about what God is saying in Jesus, we quickly realize beyond the season (Lent), beyond our country’s history (including black history month and the nation’s sins that caused a need for black history month), beyond our individual stories (humans beings who fall from God in their own poor choices and disobedience only to be redeemed and purified by his grace), beyond all this, when God speaks through Jesus, he’s addressing all things because Jesus is Lord of all.

What we have in Hebrews is enough, but to just to expand the Biblical testimony that Jesus is over all and sustainer of all, we turn to Colossians and read …

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

We rejoice in our diversity because we are united in Jesus. We take communion because we know we have life in Jesus. We reject Satan because we know we are protected by Jesus. We stand in victory even when life is hard because of Jesus. That’s what God has to say when he speaks in these last days through the Son.

God spoke. We’ve paid attention. We know what has been said and is being said. Now, we speak it. When we share bread and cup, we remind one another we are forgiven. We live in joy and hope. Making our way through Lent to the cross, we remind one another that we have a lot of growth ahead of us, a lot of paying attention to do, a lot of praying to do, lest we drift away as Hebrews 2 wants. So we remind one another in communion, in worship, in Lent.

Finally, we tell. We tell God about our friends who don’t come to church here or anywhere and who don’t know Him. He knows about them already, but we tell him. That’s called praying for the unsaved. And we tell them – with much love and patience and grace. Sometimes patience means loving the other and not talking too much Godstuff until we invited to do so. But through our actions, our prayers, our heart attitude, and our words, we tell our unchurched, unsaved friends that God has spoken. They need to pay attention because they are separated from him, and that’s no way to live. They need to know this Jesus who is all and is everything loves them.

We close with song and then worship through communion.AMEN


[i]Luke 16:29-31
[ii]John 1:3; Colossians 1:16
[iii]George Guthrie, NIV Application Commentary.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

1:24 AM ... day two of Lent

wonder how many typos will be in this ...

Ok, it's 1:24AM. Why am I blogging? Why am I not in bed?

My beautiful daughter is awake, or was a while ago. Her bed is normall in her room, which also currently doubles as our guest room. Right now we have guests (my parents, a/k/a the sains who are staying with our kids while we get a night away, tomorrow). So, my beautiful 2-year-old girl has her bed in our room.

She woke about 90 minutes ago, kicking, screaming etc. Now, 90 minutes later, she is still awake, or maybe she's asleep. Usually, when this happens as it has the past three nights, I try to get her down. I fail. My wife takes over and gets it done. This all happens in Merone's room. When my wife is getting her to sleep, I am back in our room, in my bed, sleeping. But tonight, the painful routine is happening in my room. Tired of it, I declared I was going downstairs to do laundry.

Well, once a load is folded and the washer and dryer are full, then what? I can't exactly put the folded stuff away. I could, but it would wake the boys. That wouldn't be good. Soooo ...

... I read about the Miami Heat's domination of my new favorite NBAer, Jeremy Lin. I am such an NBA fan. Why do my beloved Detroit Pistons stink so bad? I stared at the NBA standings. Yes, Detroit really is 11-25. Was it that long ago that they were dominating Kobe and Shaq in the NBA finals? How distant the memory of making it to the Eastern Conference finals year after year. When does baseball start?

I checked on NCAA men's basketball. And Facebook. And my email. And now, this blog.

I remember when we got back from Ethiopia back in January of 2009. When first returning from that trip, crossing 8 time zones, you wake up super early, 2 or 3 AM. I remember one of those first mornings, being wide awake at an hour when everyone else is asleep, and I was on Facebook telling people I was awake. My dear brother in Christ, Phil, told me I should claim the time and pray. I was iritated by Phil's suggestion.

Ooops ... my wife came down and said the little precious one wanted to know where I was. So, I've spent the last 90 minutes trying to help her get Merone to sleep. It's now 3:01AM. Awesome!! We've decided that maybe it is teething. Or Satan. I told Candy about Phil's prayer idea. She liked it. Then I was iritated at her.

So, the light came on. I read books to Merone and told her I loved her and got her to smile. The lights went off and I laid there, with Merone between Candy and me. And she didn't sleep. After a while (felt like an eternity). I put her in her bed. She screamed. I got mad and almost yelled (maybe I did yell). Then I got dressed thinking maybe I'd take her in the van. Now, it's 3AM. In total I guess I have had 1 hour, maybe 90 minutes of sleep. And I am at my kitchen table, blogging, about to eat chocolate. My wife is upstairs with our awake teething 2-year-old.

Is this what it feels like to grow in Christ? Or, do I have to make it through the entire night without yelling at the child. Tonight I have had many tender moments of love, cuddling, drawing smiles. Unfortunately, they've been bracketed by yelling and anger. Do I need to go several nights without yelling before I can say I have grown in Christ.

This happened once before. Merone was up just about the whole night. I finally took her in the van at 5AM and she fell to sleep almost immediately. That was a Saturday night. I had to preach on no sleep. I am glad this is not a Saturday night. It's only 3:08 right now. I hope this time she konks out by 3:30 and stays aslumbering until well after 7 or maybe even 8. That would be alright with me.

I guess this rambling should stop. This has gone on long enough that I now have dry laundry to fold.

Oh, by the way, I did follow Phil and my wife's suggestion. I prayed. I asked God to help Merone and everyone else in my house to sleep. And I asked for God to bless Merone. As tired as I am and as loopy as I am getting, that second prayer, the one for blessing is the most important. We can survive a little sleep deprivation. We cannot survive without God's blessing.

The Joy of the Cross

“Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” The book of Hebrews makes it sound easy. We just lay aside our sins and run the race set before. We [big shoulder shrug] live the Christian life. Just stop sinning and move ahead, walking with Jesus.

It’s not that easy!

I have heard the sin compared to an addiction. At AA meetings participants, stand, announce their name, and name the problem. All present affirm the truth of what speaker said. “Hello, I am Rob. And I am addicted to sin.” Everyone says, “Hello Rob.” No, we can’t simply lay it aside. I’ve tried.

I’ve tried not to commit the sin of impatience with my children. I’ve tried not to sin by taking my wife for granted. I’ve tried to exercise emotional intelligence and avoid sins that come when anger grips me and rage controls the words of my mouth. I’ve tried to not be gluttonous. I want to commit to Holy behavior and to stop committing sins of omission. I won’t recite a list of my personal failings. But if I did, it would be ample testimony that one cannot by simply choosing to lay aside sin.

Leon Morris, in his commentary, points out that Christians needs to unload weights. We’re called to a life, and the life lived following Christ is a life on the move. Jesus is leading us somewhere. What in our lives is slowing us down, making the task of following Jesus a burden because of what we carry as we try to follow? Now, this might not be sin, but it is a load that makes life heavy.

An extra commitment? A hobby that takes up enormous time and costs a lot of money? A job that pays well but makes it all but impossible to give much of ourselves to ministry and to the relationship with God?

The weight is what demands our priority our spiritual energy – energy that would be better spent in following Jesus into worship, into sharing the faith, into helping people. The sin corrupts our character. When we sin reject God. We declare that God does not know what’s best, we do, and we’ll do it (life) our way, not His. Morris the Bible scholar says the weight, whatever it is, hinders us. The sin entangles. We have to lay all that hinder and entangles to the side.

“Hello, I am Rob, and I am addicted to sin.” “Hello Rob.”

Hebrews knows we can’t do what we’ve been told we must do. Verse 2 – “Look to Jesus.”

I was amazed by what verse 2 says about Jesus. He’s the son of God, God in human flesh, the Savior of humanity, earning our salvation through his death on the cross and his resurrection.

Verse 2 doesn’t say all that. I speak those words about Jesus to establish who He is in our understanding. That’s the basic core truth. Jesus is Lord.Verse 2 says Jesus, who we look to because we cannot on our own lay sin aside, is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. A pioneer charges into the untamed wilderness with his machete, his hunting rifle, his canteen, and maybe a compass. He goes where no one has gone and brings order and civilization to the wilds. In Genesis 1, God told the first humans to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (v.28). Nothing is more untamed that the wilderness of mistakes, misunderstanding, misdeeds, misspoken words, and spiritual clutter than a sinner’s soul. Only one pioneer can bring order to that chaos. Jesus. And, he does it.

But, he’s not just a pioneer. He’s the perfecter of our faith. When I began to try to write about this, I was searching for examples, but all that I came up with was improvement. Ideas of how Jesus improves us as Christians, as disciples kept flowing through my mind. Hebrews does not call Jesus the improver, but the perfecter. Yes our understanding of scripture, our wisdom in caring for one another, our capacity for compassion, our effectiveness in evangelism, and our responsiveness to the Holy Spirit will get better. More than that, though, we will, with Jesus at work in us, be complete and completed. We will have freedom from worry and peace inside, even when turmoil surrounds us as we know it will.

We look to Jesus the pioneer who makes us new and Jesus the perfecter who puts His joy in us and makes us complete.

Here’s something to ponder as HillSongChurch and each of us as individuals go through Lent, journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday in 2012. What is Jesus, right now, as we go, pioneering in me? What new places inside of me (or in you, in the deepest parts) is Jesus going? What is Jesus pioneering? And what in our lives is Jesus perfecting? It would be wonderful to spend the next 40 days pursuing these questions.

What is Jesus pioneering in my life? What new thing does he bring? What new places is he taking me?

What is Jesus perfecting in my life? Where have I given complete control over to Him? What have I seen Him do once I surrendered?

When we read the impossible in Hebrews 12:1 – lay aside sin, we must go to verse 2. Keep looking to Jesus.

The reason we say all this and the reason we observe spiritual disciplines in the season we call Lent and the reason we believe Jesus went to the trouble of dying for the sins of the world is joy. The end of verse 2 – “For the sake of joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross.” Nothing could be further from joy than the Roman cross. The agony of it physically was matched by the embarrassment of it, the shame. Not only did the person on the cross die an extremely slow, painful death. It happened out in public, with the one on the cross hanging naked. No joy there. I have not been crucified, but I am confident that if I went through it, I wouldn’t be thinking “joy.”

What is joyful to God is when someone who has been completely cut off from him is born again into faith in Jesus. Jesus’ death accomplished salvation for all who put their faith in Him. That’s what it is to be saved. In Luke 15 we learn that angels in heaven rejoice over the redemption of a lost sinner. Without God, we are all lost sinners. When we turn to Jesus, we are saved.

As awful as the cross was for him, Jesus knew it led to the joy of salvation. So he did it. He suffered and died for the sake of celebrating life with you and me, our sins covered by his act of love. We have life with him so, during Lent, we refocus. We reevaluate our approach to life. We’re saved by what Jesus did. Because of what he did, we live as sons and daughters of God. What does it mean to be a son or daughter of God? It means many things, including living in faithfulness.

In Lent, we turn our attention, with great intensity, to Jesus. Because we are called to lay sin and can’t, we look to Jesus who can handle things. Because he has won the victory, he and we have joy. Because of his love, shared through suffering on our behalf, we are God’s children and committed to living in obedience to God. All this truth comes to us even as we live in a fallen world and even as we still have traces of the fall in us.

Discipleship involves concentrated effort. Sin – ours and definitely the unbound sin of the world around us – will derail us in our movement to walk with Jesus. Sin will knock us right off the path. Hebrews 12 thus gives instructions.

Endure trials.
Pursue peace.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.
How complicated are these imperatives from the Bible right to our lives? We don’t know what trials will come. For someone hear the trial will be real suffering – health, economic, relational. We’ll be tempted to pick up sin and turn away from God and the temptation will come through pain. Someone else will be tempted just as strongly, but the temptation will come through desire. Something attractive – sexual attraction, materialistic attraction, or some other – will draw us away from God’s path. O, doesn’t this look more appealing than the faith life I’ve been called to? These and countless other trials hits us from all directions and we have to endure.

Peace is elusive especially when we find people in our lives who want power or want things from us or want to fight with one another and put us in the middle. Pursuing peace is tricky. We do it even when we don’t have willing partners. Even when our neighbor would rather build animosity we pursue peace for the sake of Jesus. We pursue peace because God in His words commands us to.

The most complicated of all actions for the disciple in response to the goodness of salvation we have in Jesus is in Hebrews 15. “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” I think the writer here is talking about protecting those in the church from falling away from faith but I would also extend this to sharing the Gospel with our friends and neighbors who have not heard or who have definitely heard but had not yet turned to Jesus. We are responsible for one another’s spiritual well-being and for being witnesses who not only testify to what Jesus has done but who invite people to come to him.

Endure. Pursue Peace. Witness. It’s all for the joy of the cross, the joy that begins in sin, suffers with Christ in his agony, and rejoices with him when we come in faith and then follow his lead in our lives and walk with him in love and intimacy. We, HillSong church, are invited to the joy of the cross.

We want everyone to pray tonight about how God is going to be at work in us through lent in 2012.

What is Jesus pioneering in my life? What is Jesus perfecting in my life?

We have four prayer stations. Tonight, you’ll choose one and go. This is a time of self-directed prayer. Go to the table of your choosing, pick up a prayer guide, and then spend time committing yourself completely to God for the next 40 days. With the guide in hand, lift your prayers to heaven.

One way to begin the journey to the cross is to commit to evangelism. Go to the evangelism table. Begin praying – is there anything in me that poses an obstacle to sharing the good news? And follow that guide.

A second beginning on the journey is purity, and so you would go to the purity table. What would change inside me if I know God was giving me a pure heart?

A third starting point for moving toward Jesus in lent is Compassion. What if I believe God was continually looking at me with love and mercy?

The fourth table picks up on the theme our church has spent time in over the last four weeks. Maybe you need to continue exploring Sabbath. And at the Sabbath table you come and pray, what would feel or be different inside of me if I fully understood and practiced Sabbath?

Evangelism, purity, compassion, Sabbath. Go to one of these four tables now, for a time of prayer. If One of these four do not identify where you need to begin your journey to the cross, then come to the steps and look up at the cross. As Jesus to begin pioneering or perfecting something in you.

After you have had time to pray, return to your seat. When everyone is done, I’ll close us in prayer.

Rejoicing

Some here have heard each of the messages in this series on Sabbath. Some have heard 1 or 2 of the messages but also missed 1 or 2. Some are normally here on Sunday mornings but happened to miss the past three weeks and have not heard the messages on Sabbath. Some of you are here for the first time.

A number of questions regarding this study have come to me. Many come from small group leaders or participants in groups I lead. Dina who is our ministry assistant and participates in 2 small groups and I have talked, a lot. I have talked with Heather extensively. And my wife. And many of the questions are my own.

Of all the questions, I’ll share a few.

Rob has said Sabbath should involve food, and it should involve a lot of people. Does Rob have any idea how much work it is to cook for a lot of people? I do have a sense of that, and I do appreciate the work that cooks do. I appreciate it tremendously. I am very grateful for a big meal and I know that if someone’s daily work is in a restaurant it might sound pretty tough to hear that Sabbath should be rest and it should be festive and it should include food.

On the traditional Jewish Sabbath, the food is prepared the day before so that no work must be done on the Sabbath day. In the reading I have done, I found it is a lot of work, a ton of work, to prepare for the day of rest.

Being New Testament people, we aren’t bound by the rules that were imposed (for good reasons) by rabbis from the institution of the law in Moses’ day to the days of Jesus. Jesus gave a new understanding which was a return to the original. Sabbath is to be a gift for people. So if preparing a thanksgiving-sized feast is work that interrupts someone’s experience of Holy rest, then the meal should come about in a different way.

What if a slow-cooked soup was made the day before in a large pot, enough to feed a dozen people? On Sunday, after church, you and your friends gather, you heat up what was prepared the day before. Your friends can help set the table and poor the drinks. You put out some bread purchased the day before and butter. Serve the soup or stew, with enough for seconds. You have a hearty meal. Special prayers are said at that time, prayers of blessing for friends around the table. Prayers of thanksgiving. Maybe a 3-month schedule of readings from scripture and prayers are kept and you do that 4 times in the year. And everyone is involved in the clean-up. The enjoyable dinner conversation continues as the dishwasher is loaded and the table is cleared.

Now, everything I have just shared is by way of example. Your Sabbath doesn’t have to look anything that or could look exactly like that. For the record, I usually don’t cook. I’ll throw together oatmeal or grilled cheese or scrambled eggs. I am not a very good could. But I am not above household chores. Laundry, dishwashing, trash –those are all my jobs.

Another question that has consistently arisen regarding Sabbath – does it have to be on Sunday? No! Last week I shared an example of a pretty famous pastor – Eugene Peterson. His Sabbath was on Mondays, with his wife. Their food was a picnic of sandwiches and fruit. Much of the time was in silence, walking trails in the woods. But then the silence was broken. The spiritual discipline of silence, after a few hours, gave way to communal eating and talking together. Their community was only three – wife, husband, and Holy Spirit. But, it was still communal; it was a shared meal; it was a step outside of normal time, just for a while, and into Holy time. Again, that’s an example.

Each of us has to take account of our lives and find the space where we will step out normal time, business as usual and into holy time.

Maybe you’re student and you spend a ton of time reading and re-reading books. Your lightest moment, when intense study is not critical, happens to fall on Thursday nights. That could be your Sabbath time. You set aside an hour, 4-5PM, for prayer. In that hour you talk to God in a way that you cannot the rest of the week because of schedule and the pressure to focus on studies. You don’t let anything interrupt that hour. Then, when that time is up, you join friends for a meal. And maybe instead of a night watching favorite sitcoms, the night is spent unplugged, talking in a leisurely way. If closes with the group praying for one another.

Is this a small group or is it Sabbath? Sabbath time can be either or both. It is dedicated time in which we rest from business as usual and we receive God’s grace and blessing. We anticipate the pace we will liven once we enter God’s heavenly eternity. What I described for a student, the Thursday night Sabbath is an example that might work for some but certainly not for all. Remember, we’re living in the new rhythm, the creation rhythm which Jesus established and modeled. We’re reaching back to God’s perfect creation and forward to God’s perfect eternity. And we’re trying to set our life, briefly, amidst the rushed rhythms that normally stress us; we pause to live in God’s blessing.

The printed guide our small groups have used includes a prayer with these lines: “Create in us a new rhythm of life composed of hours that sustain rather than stress, of days that deliver rather than destroy, of time that tickles rather than tackles.” When I first saw that I thought the author was stretching the alliteration a bit. Prayer is to be more sober-minded. I thought, “Do we want to use the word‘tickles,’” in prayer?

The answer is yes! In describing his struggle with Pharisees who rejected his message Jesus said, “I am playing music and you won’t dance” (see Matthew 11:17ff). Dancing, tickling, laughing – these are all part of our Sabbath to remind us that God rejoiced at creation by declaring“Very good,” and “rest.” God rejoiced at the exodus when he delivered his people from slavery. God rejoiced on the third day when he raised Jesus from death to resurrection. God rejoices when each one of us is saved. We put our trust in Jesus. We acknowledge him as Lord of our lives. And we are raised from death in sin to new life, eternal life in Jesus Christ. That is a life of rejoicing, and in Sabbath time that Heavenly rejoicing is to be in us.

That rejoicing does sustain us in midst of a fallen world that stresses in a million ways. It does deliver us from sins that destroy. And the playful, whimsical nature of Jesus that welcomes children and walks on water and feeds crowds with a fish and loaves so they can stay with him because he wants them, he wants us with him –the way of Jesus does tickle so we laugh holy, rejoicing laughter.

Sabbath time should involve food – it can be a simple meal or huge one.

Sabbath time should be shared with people – it can be a lot of people or an intimate group.

Sabbath time should include prayer and worship – it can be Sunday morning worship at church; or a special time of worship during the week.

Sabbath time should be restful – rest comes in different forms for different individuals. In certain seasons of life, true rest may be hard to come by but we still seek God in Sabbath time, even if we have the nonstop work of caring for someone who cannot care for himself – a disable parent, an infant child, or maybe another circumstance.

In talk of all these examples and principles, we remember that we are not imposing Sabbath rules. Rest is God’s gift. We’re inviting the church to receive God’s gift of Sabbath time, an intentional structuring of life so that we regularly take a break from business as usual and step into God’s holy time. I believe that if we live in God’s blessing, it will impact who we are and how our lives go at all times.

I recommend anyone who wants to be a passionately devoted follower of Jesus Christ to make Sabbath-keeping a lifelong practice. Sabbath keeping must above all else be a celebration of the relationship we have with God as individuals and as a people.

Today’s readings come from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Deuteronomy 14:22-26; 15:1, 7-11
22Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field.23In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.24But if, when theLord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you,25then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose;26spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.
15Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts.7If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.9Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lordagainst you, and you would incur guilt.10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you,“Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

Leviticus 25:3-4, 8-12
8You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years.9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land.10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines.12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

Look again at Deuteronomy 14. What happens? The tithe of grain is eaten. Where? At God’s house, in His presence. Who eats it? The one giving the tithe. Essentially, God wants his people to come to him and eat with him. Don’t just enjoy the fruits of your labors. Come, enjoy them with God.

If the people could not physically transport their tithe to the Lord’s dwelling, then they may sell their tithe for money. And they would then carry the money to the place of God’s choosing. Once there, the people could spend the money on whatever they wanted, whatever looked tasty and good. Then verse 26, “You shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.” Rejoicing together. Sabbath is rejoicing together.

If you were here for the second Sunday of the year, then you heard me say what the word of the year is at HillSong. Does anyone remember? Joy! By the end of 2012, we will have heard and said joy or rejoice or some other iteration 56,913 times, give or take. Joy. Why practice Sabbath? To live in God’s blessing. What happens when we make it a lifelong practice to keep Sabbath and thus live in God’s blessing? We have joy.

I have tried to think about Sabbath-keeping as a practice that is not exactly like a spiritual discipline, but there is one discipline described in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline that fits with Sabbath-keeping. The final discipline he describes is celebration – Christ followers are to be people who celebrate. “Celebration is the heart of the way of Christ,”Foster writes.[i] He points out that joy is included in the fruit of the spirit, that celebration brings joy, and joy gives us strength. Eugene Peterson cites the billions spent on entertainment in our society as a sign that we are starving for joy. But it cannot be purchased.

People try to buy it. They end up temporarily thrilled, separated from their money, and frustrated in the long run. Joy, says Peterson, is a consequence of Christian discipleship, a product of God’s abundance.[ii] We cannot conjure it up, but we can seek God. In our seeking, we discover in God’s story that we were created for joy, for God’s pleasure, and to live in God’s blessing. Though our sins have marred God’s intent in creation, Jesus in death and resurrection has rescued us. No matter what happens in life, we can celebrate our salvation. Even when we are in seasons of fear or mourning or uncertainty, we celebrate the reality of what Jesus has done for us and we celebrate who we are in Christ.

Through Sabbath practices – worship, table fellowship, rest, play – we celebrate. We rejoice.

In Deuteronomy 15 we read about the seventh year in which all debts are canceled. People who have fallen into poverty enjoy the same rejoicing as people of means. The tithe described in Deuteronomy 14 leads to celebration and in chapter 15 God makes clear that He wants everyone, the poor included, in on this celebration. In Jesus we see that this is not just for once every seven years but every day. Deuteronomy 15:10 says, “Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so.” That spirit defined the early church and is to be what guides us in our worship, in our Sabbath keeping, and in our life together as God’s people.

In Leviticus, we read of the 50thyear, the Sabbath of Sabbatical years. All slaves are freed, land is returned to the original owners, and all is set back to God’s established conditions for His people.

Today we are thousands of generations removed from the specifics of Leviticus 25. But the concept of Jubilee, life lived in God’s blessings fits perfectly with the gospel and with all we’ve said about Sabbath. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord … has sent me … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s Favor” (Luke 4:18, 19). In Galatians Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free. … [We are] called to freedom” (5:1, 13). Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).

Nothing is to impede us or block us from living in the blessings of God. We keep Sabbath and celebrate when doing so to reject all that distracts and to declare that Jesus is Lord and we are His and that is something to sing about.

My prayer as we end our time of formally talking about Sabbath-keeping is that you and I, each of us, will discover how in the comings and goings of our lives we are to set time apart, time that recognizes God’s holiness. In that time, we would find rest. In that time would seek God and worship Him. In our rest, in our seeking, and in our worshiping, we receive from God: we receive freedom from our crowded, rushed, plugged in worldly existence. And, we receive joy that only comes in God’s presence. The joy the begins when we will ourselves to rejoice over God’s glory then spontaneously bursts forth in us because of what the Holy Spirit is doing in us.

We keep Sabbath and rejoice and celebrate as we do so. In that, God meets us and then we rejoice all the more because we have met God – all of us.

We conclude by rejoicing in song, singing together of God’s jubilee, the salvation of our souls.

AMEN

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sabbath Work

Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't? Sabbath work? Is Sabbath a time to rest, or isn't it?

We see in the book of Acts how the early church, the very first Christians, used the Sabbath time to do the work of Jesus. The first Christ-followers were devout Jews who never missed synagogue on the Sabbath day. It was a time to cease earthly labors, but liturgy (the work of the people), that is, worship, was entirely appropriate and expected. A part of worship was to deliver teaching on the scriptures.

When a very learned man like Paul was a guest in a synagogue, the leaders invited him to speak. Thus, we see him in Acts 13 (especially verses 14 & 44), in the synagogue accepting the invitation to speak. And, in that context, he spoke of Jesus - how Jesus was the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures (what Christians today refer to as the Old Testament). His desire, more than being a good sabbath-keeper, was to help people put their faith in Jesus Christ.

How do we follow Paul's example today, and do the work of sharing Jesus even when we are on Sabbath time?

First, we worship. Paul didn't have a secret strategy to"win over" the Jews. He went to synagogue with pure motives. It was Sabbath and that's what they did. Today, whatever we have in mind for when and how we keep Sabbath time, it must include worship. And whether or not we keep our Sabbath time on Sunday, we need to be in church with our church family worshiping God together. Like Paul, we must worship with the body of believers.

Second, we have to be ready to share Christ at all times. That means we spend our lives immersed in the Gospels and the New Testament, so we have ingrained in us the truth about Jesus. We're ready with a message: God loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus to die for our sins and whoever believes in him shall not die (in sin) but shall have eternal life. At all times (including on Sabbath, including in worship) we stay ready to share the good news.

Third, we don't just cram it down people's throats. "The people begged that these matters [the truth about Jesus as fulfillment of the scriptures] be presented to them the following Sabbath" (Acts 13:42). Paul didn't have to be tricky. The people begged him to share the goodnews. Likewise, we share our faith in the context of relationships with others. We share when it is clear the person we're with is ready and willing and interested in hearing us. In Athens, among gentiles, Paul said nothing about Jewish law, but rather shared Christ in ways intelligible to the people there (Acts 17:18-34). We share Jesus in terms the other will understand.

So to review, the works of the Sabbath are worship and evangelism. The worship is with the community of faith. The evangelism is with people who are willing and done in a way that they will understand the message.

These works are appropriate and required at other times as well. Any time is right for these works of faith, and the Sabbath is no time to stop worshiping and testifying to the good news. In our rest, our time shared together and our play, we praise God and share how wonderful He is that others might join us in praising and loving Him.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Inclusive Sabbath

"But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work, you ... or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male or female slaves may rest as well as you" (Deuteronomy 5:14).

An incredible aspect of the sabbath command is the application of it to all people, including foreigners and slaves. God's intentions for creation and for his chosen people do not exclude the those lowests on society's rung, the immigrants and the non-persons, the slaves. These who are viewed as less than human in conventional thinking are highly valued by God.

In the mercy and unconditional love of Jesus Christ, we see just how much God loves the slave, the refugee, the lowly. Jesus made time for blind men, even on his march to the cross (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus spent time with society's disreputables (Mark 2:16-17), and he loved those society had abandoned (Luke 8:26-39).

In taking the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ to the Mediterranean world, Paul shared with gentiles and Jews, the rich and the poor. While a prisoner, Paul led another inmate, Onesimus, to receive Christ, and then Paul comissioned Onesimus' master/owner, Philemon, to receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother in Christ (Philemon 17-18). And Paul wrote that in Christ "there is no slave or free ... for all are one in Christ" (Galatians 3:28).

While we might not open our homes every week for hosting on the Sabbath, it is good to do some times. Invite people to your home as a part of your day of rest, your day set apart to the Lord. Jesus often dined in the home of his friends, but he says, "when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" (Luke 11:13). Let hospitality be lovingly given to people who will be thoroughly blessed, people who have not been welcomed by many. In Sabbath prayer, remember to pray on behalf of the poor.

I do not think the Sabbath is the time to do active advocacy work on behalf of the marginalized people of society. However, the Sabbath is most certainly to invite disinfranchised persons to join in the church's worship and then to enjoy a meal with them after the worship service.

As we have said throughout this month-long conversation on Sabbath, rest is not simply ceasing from work and doing nothing. Rest is stopping time as we know it and entering Sabbath time. Sabbath time is time for worship, time for fellowship, time for welcome and hospitality, and it is time to recognize that the blessings God means for us are blessing God means for all people.

The Day the Lord Blessed (Exodus 20:8-11)

Nurture … restoring the soul … healing deep wounds … saving of human life; not just saving from pain and from death, but saving for joy, for blessing, and for eternal life …

Renowned Presbyterian pastor John Buchannan writes of Sabbath, “the whole purpose of this tradition is … the nurture and restoring and healing and saving of human life. That’s what Jesus cared about –not religious legalism but whole, healthy human beings.”[i] And we would add, one cannot be whole and healthy unless one in a right relationship with God and with others, and the relationships are not right unless Jesus is at the center of them.

Nurture … restoring the soul …healing deep wounds … saving of human life – what feeds your soul? This is deeper than what is fun, though it can be fun. It’s more profound than what makes us happy, but in it we will most likely feel happy. It is of much greater significance than getting what we want and in the feeding of the soul, we get something that is more and is better than what we thought we wanted. What feeds your soul? To understand what to do and not do on the Sabbath we need a sense of that. We need to, at least in part, have an idea of what restores us in the depths of our very being.

Our base passage, which we have already read, is Exodus 20:8-11, the fourth commandment. Remember. When we remember July 4th, we celebrate our nation’s democracy and freedom. More than simply recalling a date and facts about it, remembering is involved. Fireworks, parades, and barbeques are ways we remember. Remembering the Sabbath is even more involved as remembering really means re-living or living again what God instituted at the creation and at the establishment of the Law.Remember.

Keep. Keep this day as a holy day that is set apart from all other days. Other ancient societies did not take a day off. People worked from sun up to sunset. There was no concept of leisure. Life was survival. People died of old age – at 35. The Israelites were odd. They circumcised their men and believed in 1 God not many. They stopped all activity 1 day a week. The Sabbath is to be kept holy and a way we do that is Rest. Remember, Keep, and Rest.

This passage from Exodus is the word of God and it is to inform and guide our lives. Yet, before we get bogged down trying to understand and obey, we must remember what Jesus said. All scripture is to be taken in terms of Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ values. He said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath”(Mark 2:27). This day made holy by God is a gift to us that serves us and invigorates us. Or, we said at the outset, the Sabbath nurtures, restores, heals, and saves. Of all that we come across in faith, the Sabbath, like nothing else, feeds our souls. From the mouth of Jesus we know, that more than command, the Sabbath is gift to us.

Our remembering, keeping, and resting are acts of obedience. In obedience, we are made new. The overarching goal of Sabbath is to live in God’s blessing. Before I get into examples of how people keep Sabbath, it is important we know why we do all this. It is to live in God’s blessing, receive God’s gift.

Here are some principles to consider as we think about planning Sabbath. First, we have to prepare. In most of our lives, there are commitments and expectations from others. We have to prepare people who count on us that Sabbath time is different. Our rest and our honoring of God and our time with family is the only precedent. All other demands on us that fill our lives most of the week will be left unattended until Sabbath time has passed. We need to prepare others by letting them know we stop business as usual. After preparation, we consider some important themes.

We’ve already mentioned that Sabbath activity should nurture, restore, and heal. Of course, Jesus is the Savior. Keeping Sabbath is not a way of forcing God to act. Rather, we do activities that God uses to make us new again. We do things that are likely to put us in a place and in a condition to meet God. Sarah MacDonald suggests three movements – ceasing, seeing, and celebrating.[ii] We’ve said ceasing is stopping business as usual. It is not stopping all activity. It is stopping normal time and the rushed thoughts that crowd our minds and stress us out in normal time. That stops as we enter Sabbath time.

Seeing picks up on the slightly different wording of the Sabbath command in the rendering of the 10 commandments found in Deuteronomy 5. In Exodus it says remember the Sabbath. In Deuteronomy it says “observe” the Sabbath. We observe that all days are Gods and that this is God’s special day. After we have stopped, we seek and see God. And with God, we celebrate a joy-filled time of relationship.

With our goal established – to live in God’s blessings on the day God blessed – and our principles laid out, how then do we keep Sabbath?

Leonard Sweet has served as Methodist pastor and is currently a professor of evangelism at Drew University. He remembers growing up and keeping the Sabbath which his family observed on Sunday. Gramma knew the principle of “Sabbath time.” [She] was rigid about the Lord’s day. My aunts and uncles and we grandkids couldn’t even file a fingernail on Sunday. There was no ball playing, no hide and seek, no running wildly through the house. We had to stay dressed up in our Sunday best all day. It seemed as though all we could do on Sunday was go to church, sing hymns, or take a walk. At 7 AM, the family gathered around the big table, with everyone in their best clothes. Grandad always asked the blessing and when he said “Amen,” everyone delved into a feast of bacon, eggs, hot biscuits, and oatmeal. No one got up from the table until Grandad led everyone in a family prayer. Then the chairs were pushed back and everyone knelt at the table for a time of Bible reading and more prayer.It was then time for church – Sunday School and then worship. Sunday dinner (served midday, after the morning worship) was the biggest meal of the week, both in terms of food and people at the table. Gramma always made enough for extra guests – fresh southern fried chicken, gravy, pinto beans, greens, bread, sliced tomatoes, coleslaw, and pickles. Far from boring, lonely, depressing times, Sunday afternoons were the primary time for visiting relatives and friends in country, playing the pump organ and singing hymns. On special occasions Gramma got out her dulcimer or banjo and she and Grandad sang a duet. At three PM we would visit local country churches for afternoon service and help with the music. Sunday supper was always early and light: mush and milk or pinto beans and corn dipped into buttermilk. Sunday evening worship services were always an obligation.Growing up I protested the strictness of these Sunday regulations. Today they stand as some of the most pleasant memories of my life.[iii]

That’s one example, one from a big family, a country family that did not allow anything to interfere with what Leonard Sweet’s gramma would call the Lord’s Day. I don’t have anything negative to say about Sweet’s depiction of his childhood Sabbath. There is a lot I like about it. I am not convinced it is the only way to remember and observe, to live in God’s blessing.

I have previously mentioned the writing of Duke Divinity School professor Lauren Winner. She grew up as a Sabbath observant Jew and has since accepted Jesus Christ as her savior. She is not married and does have the kind of days of overwhelming family that Sweet describes. She writes about her Sabbath. Sabbath is, without question, the piece of Judaism I miss the most.[iv] I am not suggesting that Christians embrace the strict regulations of the Orthodox Jewish Sabbath. Indeed, the New Testament unambiguously inaugurates a new understanding. But there is something in the Jewish Sabbath that is absent from most Christian Sundays: a true cessation from the rhythms of work and world, a time wholly set apart, and above all a time that points toward God.For Christians, the Sabbath has an added dimension. It commemorates not only God’s resting from creation, but also God’s resurrection.For my own return to Sabbath observance, I am starting small. I have joined a Bible study that meets Sundays at 5PM. I attend church in the morning then have a leisurely lunch with friends, which might include reading the “Can-do Pigs” with the young twin daughters of my particularly close friend. I close out the day with the even Bible Study group. I have forsworn Sunday shopping, but if I am not with friends, I am at the Mud House [a coffee shop]. This is not much compared to the cessations of the Orthodox Sabbath; but still, the first arcs of a return to Sabbath.

Clearly quite a different ritual and practice than what was described Leonard Sweet. Lauren Winner’s may appear a bit easier to keep, but difficulty or ease are not the point. The point is living in God’s blessing. Both authors would say the Sabbaths they describe help them be conditioned to receive the blessings God extends. Leonard Sweet spoke out of a childhood memory. Lauren Winner spoke as one who does religious work but is not working Sunday.

Listen to the Sabbath approach of Eugene Peterson, a pastor of more than 30 years. We (him and his wife Jan) quit taking a“day off” and began keeping a “Sabbath,” a day in which we deliberately separated ourselves from the workweek – in our case being pastor and pastor’s wife – and gave ourselves to being present to what God has done and is doing, this creation in which we have been set down and this salvation in which we have been invited to be participants in a God-revealed life of resurrection.We kept Monday as our Sabbath. For us Sunday was a workday. Monday served as a day to get out of the way and to be present in an unforced yet intentional way of prayer. It was a day of nonnecessities: we prayed and we played.After getting the children off to school, I prepared a simple lunch of sandwiches and fruit. We took our day-pack, walking sticks, binoculars, and appropriate clothing for whatever weather faced us – rain, snow, sunshine. We drove to a trailhead, usually not more than 30 or 40 minutes away.Jan read a Psalm and prayed. We entered a morning of walking and silence in which we listened to Jesus. After a few hours of walking we found a rock alongside a river. We broke the silence with prayer and then ate our lunch. We talked about all our observations, a beaver, a fox, flowers in bloom, a robin or an oriole. We talked about conversations of the past week and reflected on the previous Sunday worship. We paid attention to the week we have just lived through. It turned out that we had missed a lot [before stopping to notice]. Each Sabbath became a day of remembering, becoming aware of where we were, who we were – the gifts of God for the people of God. We talked all the way home.[v]

Lauren Winner entered God’s blessing and lived in the day God blessed through a slowing of pace, intentionally refusing to work or hurry, and spending time with friends and with the community of faith. Jan and Eugene Peterson did the same with one another and out in nature. Leonard Sweet, as a child, entered God’s blessed time in the context of a rigid family ritual that involved family, worship, and food.

What possibilities are there for God’s people at HillSong Church to keep Sabbath, to remember and observe, and to receive God’s gift on this day God has blessed? Think of the question posed earlier. What feeds your soul? Think hard on that question.

What about golf? Is it played with others? Does it include meaningful relationship –real talking with one another, and genuine appreciation of God? If yes, then maybe golf can be a Sabbath activity. But if family time is lost because of golf, or if worship is skipped, then no. If golf is played for the sake of God, then it is not appropriate for Sabbath. The golf has to fit into the context of seeking God, making the day holy, and investing in relationships with Christ at the center.

The same is true of watching football. If it falls in the midst of day the includes worship and time spent meaningfully with people, and it is clearly a day that is set apart, then football is OK, I think. But if football, and not Jesus, is the center of the day, and everything is set around the football game, then football is not a good Sabbath activity.

These things – sports and other amusements are play, and play is good. They bring joy. But, if there is no specialness to the day, then football or golf or whatever are just fun things to do. They do not usher us into the blessed day of God.

What does?Worship – alone on a walk, with the church, with loved ones. Sabbath should be saturated in prayer and worship. One of the ways to make the Sabbath meal extra special and set apart is to light candles, read Psalms and say prayers that are only said on that day. Let the Sabbath meal be leisurely. For families with young children, this may be as chaotic as all other times are, especially when you first try initiating Sabbath. But stick with it. In a few months, and maybe sooner, the eight-year-old might say, “Oh boy, it’s Sunday. We light candles.” It might take him a little while before he connects the candles and the prayers and the worship with the day. But that’s OK. This is Sabbath. It’s OK if things take a little while.

At the risk of seeming ridiculously obvious, another great Sabbath activity is a Sabbath nap. Nearly every book or article I’ve looked at mentions a nap when talking about Sabbath time.

Be outdoors for a bit of the Sabbath. Feel the chill of winter, the fresh liveliness of spring, the warm summer’s sun, the caress of an autumn breeze, and maybe even the freshness of a sprinkle or gentle rain, if it’s not too cold. Go for a walk or do some gardening (but only if gardening is not “work”). Toss a Frisbee. We sometimes play kickball games at our house that include neighborhood kids. We had some close friends who, before they moved out of town, would invite us over for Sunday dinner. The kids would play we adults would linger over the table just talking, sometimes for hours. That, along with worship, all of it together is Sabbath.

I will mention a couple of hazards. Sabbath has the potential to be extremely enjoyable. In fact, if the goal is to live in God’s blessing then it most likely will be among the most wonderful times of life, as Leonard Sweet attested. But, it must not be self-indulgent. On Sabbath, we do not seek pleasure for pleasure’s sake. We stop our hurry, we leave ordinary time (business as usual), and enter into God’s holiness. We aren’t seeking pleasure. We are seeking God.

One other hazzard or caution has to do with rules. Jesus rejected the rules the Pharisees clung to regarding Sabbath. None of those rules were made with bad intentions. The ancient rabbis looked at Exodus 20 just as we have this morning. The only rules God gave were to remember, to keep the day holy, and to rest. Trying to obey the command, the rabbis came up with hundreds of definitions of work so they could know what to not do. Jesus rejected this legalistic reading when he said the Sabbath is made for humankind, God’s gift to us. If we set a plan and something comes up to force us to do the things we resolved not to do on Sabbath, we aren’t in danger of Hellfire. We fall into God’s grace. We come back the next week, and try again.

Sabbath is not about rules, nor is it not about self-indulgence. Jesus rejected this type of Sabbath-keeping. For Jesus Sabbath was living in God’s goodness, God’s blessing.

On the Sabbath, stop! Stop daily, normal life. This is hard and requires commitment, but the result is living in God’s restful blessing. Stop. Then seek God in Sabbath time. Worship. Then do things in a special way to acknowledge the holy otherness of the day. And do it with people, loving them with the love of Christ whether you know them well or have just met them.This is the day the Lord has blessed. Live in it.

AMEN



[i]From textweek (http://www.textweek.com/pentateuch/ex20b.htm), see http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/buchanan_4419.htm

[ii] http://www.intervarsity.org/gfm/resource/a-guided-sabbath

[iii]L. Sweet (1998), Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN, p.104-105.

[iv]L. Winner (2003), Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, p.3, 9-10, 12-13.[v] E. Peterson (2011), Harper One, New York, NY, p.220-221.