Sabbath as Grace (SABBATH PT 4)

This is the 4th in a 5 part blog on Sabbath. So far I have tried to develop why we need Sabbath so badly. With this blog we take a step toward the practical. What should Sabbath look like?

Perhaps a good place to start is to consider what Sabbath has looked like. For Israel, the Sabbath was a day when no work was to be done. Not only could you not work, but your servants and animals could not work either. You could not have another person work for you.closed sundays

Days were calculated from sunset to sunset, so all the work for the week had to be done by sunset on Friday. This included meals to be eaten during the Sabbath. Everything was ready for the Sabbath to start. This also included the candles and readings for family celebrations on the Sabbath. The day normally included family meals and trip to the temple if you were nearby.

In our lifetimes, Sabbath was more of a social construct. Do you remember when nothing was open on Sunday? There were laws that said businesses could not be open. You could not go out to eat because nothing was open. And you did not dare mow your grass on a Sunday.

The challenge with these Sabbath styles is that they have a tendency to be contrary to the true idea of Sabbath. If Sabbath is a bunch of rules then you inevitably end up working to follow the rules. It is hard to rest in that kind of system.

The reality is that we barely do anything like Sabbath anymore. Sure, we go to church if we don’t have something else to do, but the rest of our Sundays are slammed with activities and projects.

Why don’t we Sabbath anymore? Maybe we are just so busy. Maybe we don’t see the need for Sabbath. Maybe we don’t know how. And the way we have experienced Sabbath is legalistic and does not lead to true rest.

If we are going to develop a Sabbath, it has to start with a clear sense of why we are doing it. It will need structure, but not an overbearing one. Perhaps it will not be on Sunday. Perhaps we won’t be able to do a 24 hour period. Perhaps it won’t be Sunday.

Here is my big point: a Sabbath of true rest has to be based on grace. It can’t be based in shame or in rules.

Sabbath and the 10 Commandments (SABBATH PT 3)

So far in these blogs about Sabbath I have made the case that Sabbath is a symbol of commitment between God and God’s people (a wedding ring) and that Sabbath is a sign of resistance to the world’s view of people and life. But it is more than just a symbol and it is more than just resistance. Sabbath is also a major tool that God uses to help us love our God and love our neighbor.

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Consider the place and role of the Sabbath in the 10 commandments in Exodus 20. There are 3 commandments about God—no other Gods, no idols, and no taking the Lord’s name in vain. There are 6 commandments about neighbor—honor father and mother, don’t murder, no adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness against neighbor or lie, and don’t covet.

Sabbath sits in the list right between these 2 sets. It is by far the longest commandment and it is the hinge between the two sets. Sabbath is how we start to take our relationship with God and live it out. It is the mechanism God uses to help us live out our faith with our neighbors.

But how does Sabbath help us love God and love neighbor?

  1. Sabbath keeps us connected to God. In Psalm 46:10 God tells us, “Be still and know that I am God.” How can we stay connected with God if we are never still? We need to Sabbath so that we can stay connected with God. Otherwise our lives will tend to crowd God out.
  2. Sabbath keeps us aware of our neighbors. If we are busy few tend to lose sight of others. I don’t even see my neighbors when I am rushing to get somewhere. Sabbath gives us space to notice the needs around us.
  3. Sabbath helps us to not stop coveting. Coveting is last commandment for a reason. It is often coveting that leads to the other sins listed, and it is Sabbath that helps us to deal with it. When we are satisfied, we can trust God and there is no need to harm others. We need the Sabbath to help us stay connected to God so that we do not covet.
  4. Sabbath keeps us rested and at our best. Have you ever noticed that if you are really tired or really stressed you tend to have a shorter fuse? Sabbath gives us rest so that we have the ability to choose our emotional responses to situations instead of just reacting to life.

Do you have trouble trusting God? Do you have trouble having empathy for others? My first question for you is—what is your Sabbath habit like?

Sabbath as Resistance (SABBATH PT 2)

In my last post I suggested that Sabbath is very important to God because it is a sign of the covenant—like a wedding ring. But it is more than that. It is also a way that God gets our perspective in the right place.

The Israelites had been in slaver for 200 years. In Egypt, the Israelites were commodities. They were the sum of what they accomplished. They were the sum of the bricks they made. In fact, they were more like bricks to be used by the Egyptians then they were people. They were a product to be used.

This is the only economy that those living had ever known. No one was living that personally knew life outside of slavery. They lived their entire lives in the economy of Egypt.
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You can imagine how dehumanizing this could be, not only for individuals but for the community. Commodity leads to anxiety because you don’t have neighbors to care for. You can only have threats and competitors. Some in the system got to be on the top while others got to be worked to death by those on the top.

God’s economy is different. God rested on the 7th day not because God was not tired, but he was setting an example, because he is more than what he created. It has been said that it took God 40 days to get the people of Israel out of Egypt, but 40 years to get Egypt out of them. Sabbath is one of God’s main ways of helping Israel with that.

Ultimately, Sabbath is resistance. It is resistance to the world of commodity. Sabbath says that God is not Pharaoh. God does not keep demanding more and better.

Sabbath is a system of rest to contradict a system of anxiety. You are not a thing. You are not the sum of the work you do. You don’t have to be so stressed. You can trust in God to take care of you..

You are more than what you product, you are more than what you, you are more than what people think of you. You are more than your job.

  • You do not have to do more, know more, sell more, control more…
  • You do not have to have your kids in all these different sports…
  • You don’t have to have a job that makes you work 65 hours a week…
  • You don’t have to be younger, more beautiful, or more financially stable…
  • You don’t have to drive a better car than your next door neighbor…
  • You don’t have to get ahead at work at the expense of someone else….
  • You don’t have to kill yourself following everybody’s rules and expectations….

Sabbath is resistance to the economy of commodity. If you do not have a Sabbath habit then you are probably getting consumed by the Egypt mentality, because that is where our world is. What economy do you want to live in?

Join the Resistance!!

 

This is the second in a blog series on Sabbath. For deeper reading, I recommend Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann. Some of this blog post was directly inspired from that work. 

 

Sabbath as a Wedding Ring (SABBATH PT 1)

[12] And the LORD said to Moses, [13] “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. [14] You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. (Exodus 31:12-14 ESV)

Think about the stunningly strong language of this text is. The Lord says that that above all the other laws the people should keep the Sabbaths. Everyone who doesn’t should be put to death. If you work on the Sabbath, you will be cut off from the community. Ouch!

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What is almost as shocking is how much Christians today do not care at all about Sabbath. How many of us never rest? We don’t even rest on our days off. Instead, we work harder on our days off to get done what we could not get done while we were at work. When we are too busy to go to worship then we just don’t go.

Here is the question of this blog series: what is Sabbath so important to God? When we understand why it is important then we can begin to paint a picture of what a good Sabbath would look like in today’s society.

To understand the importance of Sabbath, you have to understand the context into which God gave the people a Sabbath. The people had spent 200 years in slavery. They had heard stories of how they were God’s chosen people, but how could they believe them? Does God even exist? If God is there, then why were they in slavery? Can God be trusted?

So God gave them a sign—the Sabbath. The metaphor that the Jewish people have used for Sabbath is the wedding ring between God and God’s people. For God, the Sabbath shows that He is faithful and will take care of His people so that they can find rest. For the people, it shows that they do indeed trust God to care for them so that they can rest.

Sabbath is ultimately an issue of trust. Do you trust God to work through you 6 days a week more than you trust what you can accomplish yourself in 7 days of work?busy-full-calendar-monthly-clients

In future blogs I will discuss how to develop a Sabbath habit in the world today. For now I simply ask you to consider your current Sabbath habits. Do you have a view of the importance of Sabbath that is at all close to God’s?

Deflate-Gate and Christian Ethics

On Monday the National Football League handed down a 4 game suspension for Tom Brady of the New England Patriots for his part in deflating footballs before a playoff game this past year. The team was also penalized $1 million and 2 future draft picks. If you turn on ESPN this week you will see all kinds of debate in response. Is this fair? What really happened? Is the evidence strong enough to warrant this response? What will happen in the appeal? Tom Brady has frustrated many as he has not really admitted or denied the accusations. This will certainly be a news story for many weeks to come.Tom_Brady_Desktop_by_virtuedestroyedx

Everybody is sharing opinions on the matter on social media and in conversation, but I will not be sharing mine. Instead, I want to point out 4 ways that the discussion on ESPN and in the news is distinct from the way Christians should approach ethical discussions. I am not arguing that the debate should be done from a Christian perspective in those contexts. I think, however, that Christians need to think critically about the differences.

  1. God cares about means and ends. The excuse has been made that since the Patriots beat the Colts so soundly the ball pressure did not influence the outcome and so the ball pressure does not matter. This is a popular argument—to say that if you do something unethical for a good reason or if you do something unethical that does not result in a problem that it is acceptable. This is not a Christian argument. God cares about what you do and the results that you have. Remember that Jesus even cares about what happens in your mind before you even take action. (Mt 5:28)
  2. God sees and cares about who you are and what you do when no one is looking. Christian ethics are not about not getting caught or about definitive proof. Christian ethics are based on doing the right thing no matter who else sees or catches you because God is always with you and sees what you do in secret. (Mt 6:4, 6, 18) The question is not, “What can I get away with?” The question for Christians is, “How can I be more Christ-like in every area of my life?”
  3. Christian ethics care about truth and confession. One of the key truths of Christianity is that the truth will set us free. (Jn 8:23) There is also something freeing about confessing the truth. If you did something wrong then say so. If you did not do anything wrong then say so. Or, as James encourages, we should let our yes be yes and our no be no. (Jm 5:12) I don’t know what Brady did or did not do, but I wish he would be very clear about it publically. Honesty goes a long way in Christian ethics.
  4. Christian ethics are not ultimately based on human fairness. This is the big question of this story—is the penalty fair? When the world says that, they are talking about human opinion. When Christians evaluate behavior we do so based on the righteousness of God’s own character and not on what people think is fair. And even then we don’t get what we deserve, because Christ takes the punishment we deserve. There are still consequences for sin, even under grace. We feel the results of our sin just as we set up laws and punishments to keep society in order. God even does this in the Old Testament. My point is that the ultimate evaluation for Christian ethics is not a human understanding of fairness but the righteousness of God’s character. The criteria for Christians is higher.

I do not expect that the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell, ESPN, or even Tom Brady and the New England Patriots ought to be living or talking about Christian ethics. My worry is that Christians will not think critically about the distinctions between the world’s ethics and God’s ethics and will bring the world’s ethics into the church. For us, the standards and the discussions are different. Confusing them can be dangerous for the church.

THE SEARCH FOR CONSISTENCY

Before I went to work in the church I was the director of a company that did experiential education to teach leadership, teambuilding, and character development. We worked with school groups and businesses but most of our work was with athletic teams. Basically, I led groups through a series of challenges and games that would test their group dynamics. Because it was away from the sport, teams had an easier time seeing their chemistry (or lack thereof), and because there was no score teams felt comfortable trying on new behaviors.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have worked with hundreds of teams and still do some of that work to this day. For all of those teams there was one issue that came up more than any other and one issue that every coach wanted help with—CONSISTENCY! I have found that:

  • Some teams would play good against good teams but then turn around and play poorly when they play a bad team.
  • Some teams would play bad when they played a good team that they thought would beat them but then play really well when they were expected to win.
  • Some teams played well to start games while others started slow and finished strong.
  • Some teams played well with leads, others blew leads, and still others did not play with urgency until they were behind.
  • Some teams you just never knew which team was going to show up because their play was so inconsistent.

I don’t think this struggle is only true of athletic teams. How many times do we live our lives by responding to how we feel or what is going on in the world around us? Are you trying to work out more, write a book, develop a business, or pastor a church? Then you need consistency. Working with all of these teams, I found that it takes 2 things to be consistent—an incredible amount of clarity and resolve.

CONSISTENCY REQUIRES CLARITY. Great teams know how they like to work. They know what they want to accomplish and have a clear sense of why. They are crystal clear not only about their goal but also how they need to play to attain their goal. This includes the pace, the style, the roles that the players take, and the balance of focus and relaxation. Great teams and athletes try to impose their will on the game and play it in their style.

This is why you never wanted to play Michael Jordan when he was sick. When he knew his illness was going to bring down his play he stepped up all the more. He was not competing with the opposing team as much as competing with his own picture of what he need to do.

CONSISTENCY REQUIRES RESILIENCE. If a team or athlete has a clear sense of what they want to do, then they need to find the resilience to play that way in different circumstances. It is easy to play your game when you are winning or when things are going right, but what about when you lose, when you have an injury, or when a ref makes a bad call? Great teams have the grace to not fall apart but still be there together in the bad times. They also have the truth or the accountability to call each other back to what is necessary.

Rescue 05I worked with a women’s college basketball team one time that had a new coach who was trying to change the culture and take the program to the next level. As I worked with the team, I noticed how often they said “sorry” to each other and how slow they were to help each other. I asked them about this and they said that they did not want to offend each other or step on each other’s toes. I challenged them to rethink their view because in a game they needed to be more direct. Not only was it faster but they needed to be able to hold each other accountable. They were able to hear that. They coach had been making the game plan very clear. Now it was time for them to be more resilient.

If you want to be consistent, find a way to be crystal clear on what you have to do and build systems and find teammates to make you resilient.