Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Psalm 138 Podcast

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Psalm 138 - It's About Heart



Psalm 138 is about celebrating the greatness of the Lord, who is the God of gods.  The psalmist has made his choice.  Of all the gods that clamor for his (and our) attention and loyalty, he will choose to serve the Lord.  David has decided  to make God his highest focus.  

This Psalm calls for decisive vote for God.  One cannot be wishy-washy and pray this prayer.  This is not a prayer for those still holding on to their spiritual options.  One cannot be neutral and pray this prayer.   We must put our whole self into this prayer.  We must pray it with our whole heart. 

Father Patrick Henry Reardon writes this of  Pslam 138:  “What does it mean to pray?  It is first of all a matter of the heart….in this modern age of subjectivity, it would be easy to interpret this truth as implying that one’s prayer is made ‘with real feeling.’ Indeed, one meets many individuals who spend most of their prayer time attempting to ‘feel’ the right sorts of things, so that prayer becomes an exercise in the cultivation of proper sentiments.  Or worse, one meets those who have actually stopped praying because their hearts are ‘no longer in it,’ so that they do not ‘feel sincere.’   Alas, it is common these days to identify sincerity with emotional spontaneity.  The word ‘heart,’ in the biblical and traditional vocabulary of prayer, bears no such meaning.

When we speak of prayer ‘from the heart’ we mean, rather, from the very core of ourselves, the center of decision and resolve, a region vastly deeper than our emotions.  It is at that level that God speaks to us.  Truly, it is with a view to finding our hearts that we make the great efforts that prayer itself demands.”⁠1

On the Accidental Creative, one of my favorite podcasts, Todd Henry makes the observation that many creative people have an unreal set of expectations when it comes to having a passion for something.   Having a passion for a work does not mean always feeling happy or excited.  It means being willing to suffer for something.  It is about being sold out to a vision bigger than ourselves.  But having such passion is excruciating at times.   Even when we love the work we are doing, it will not mean that we always feel giddy about it.   

This kind of thinking can really trip us up, giving us a false sense of guilt.  We feel bad about not feeling “good.”  So, we feel as if we are being fake or in-authentic because doing the right thing doesn’t always produce the emotional feelings we think we should have.  We even use the phrase of our heart not being in it any more.  Surely we can do things for the wrong reasons, or lose our focus, or have our sense of commitment fade.  All of that would describe our heart not being in something.  But even when our heart is in something, we may not feel euphoria about it.  

Next, notice that though God is great God, high and lifted up, he takes notice of the lowly.  The 6th century church father, Caesarius of Arles (470-543 AD), had this to say about Psalm 138: 

“See, brethren, the great miracle.  God is on high.  You exalt yourself, and he flees from you; you humble yourself, and he descends to you.  Why is this?  Because ‘the Lord is exalted, yet the lowly he sees, and the proud he knows from afar.’  He recognizes what is lowly from close at hand in order that he may raise it up; what is high, that is, what is proud, he knows from afar in order that he may bring it down.  Christ truly arose from the dead in order to get us hope, because the person who dies rises again.  He gave us assurance, so that we might not despair in dying and think [that] our whole life ended in death.  We were troubled about our very soul, but by rising from the dead he also gave us confidence.”  - Caesarius of Arles.⁠2

As I write this devotion, I think about the iconic image of the American firefighter rescuing a kitten from tree.  This common image invokes an interesting complexity of character traits.  Firefighters are rightly admired by the communities they serve.  Brave and strong, these men and women hold a place of great honor.  Yet, most of these courageous servants are also known for being humble servants.  They are just as willing to bring out the truck and ladders to rescue the little child’s kitten as they are to battle raging flames.

The fire chief and assistant fire chief of our little town both attend the church I pastor.  And both are fine examples of the qualities I just described.  This past summer, the chief was called to an emergency.  An amusement park in our city was the scene of the crisis.  A child and his family had paid to go on the zip lines.  

The boys sister went first and did fine.  Things quickly changed.  When his time to zip came, the boy froze with fright, stranding himself 50 ft. above the ground.  His family and the staff tried to coach him through it, but it was no use.   He was stuck.  Reluctantly, the park staff called the fire department.   

Our fire chief and a couple of other firefighters responded.  Using the extension ladder, at the top of the firetruck, they were able to reach the boy, unhook his harness, and bring him down safely.  

After the rescue, the boy’s father was rather embarrassed and sought to make an apology to the chief. “Sir,” he said, “I am so sorry.”  In a matter of fact manner, the chief responded, saying, “For what?  Your son needed help and we came.”  The task was not beneath his dignity, for his a true servant of the public.  It’s just one of the things that makes him and other emergency responders amazing people.  

Music for the podcast comes from Eric Lawrance, Glenn Rowlands, and Paul Starling; courtesy of http://www.musicalley.com.

anImage_4.tiff
1 Reardon, Patrick Henry. Christ in the Psalms. Conciliar Press, 2012.
Page 275
2 Ancient Christian Commentary: Volume VIII, page 382.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Psalm 130 Podcast

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Psalm 130


Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord!

    Lord, hear my voice!

Hope is a way of looking at the future.  One who has confidence about the future is said to have hope.  Despair literally means to be without hope.  It is the posture or condition of one who dreads the future.  A person who anticipates that bad things are coming is likely to be one without hope.

Have you ever dreaded something?  When I was a young child, a friend of mine and I were playing around an empty building.  Somehow we were convinced that if no one was using the building, and it was sitting there vacant, then it no longer belonged to anyone.  We thought that it being unused meant that it had been abandoned.  Thus, we didn’t think anyone would mind if we broke a few windows.  We were sorely mistaken.  

A neighbor saw the whole thing and contacted the juvenile officer in our county.  About a week later, we were confronted at the elementary school with our misdeeds.  The principal and juvenile officer were there.  Even worse, we were informed that our parents would soon be there as well.  This struck greater fear into my heart than even juvenile officer; because I knew, whatever punishment he had for me, the punishment coming from my parents would be even greater.

More than that, I did not want my parent’s disapproval.  Their approval meant more to me than any punishment.  I could not stand the thought of them being disappointed over my poor decisions.  

At the end of this life, many of us fear to meet with God, not because of some fear of punishment, but because of the fear that what we may see in God’s eyes will be disappointment, and this thought robs us of joy, even as it robs us of hope.  

The Psalmist cries in despair over the thought of standing before God.  After all, God knows everything, and if he were to keep record of our wrongs, the list would be devastatingly thorough, and humiliating in its completion.  Yet, this very feeling of despair drives the writer to seek after God, because “For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plenteous redemption.  And he will redeem Israel from all iniquities.”

As my third-grade-self sat, waiting for my parents to arrive at school, my stomach turned in knots.  As my parents walked in, their stern eyes met mine and I felt shame over the things I had done.  But then, I felt the soft hand of my mother upon my shoulder, and to my surprise, I alsofelt comforted.  The comfort came from the realization that I would not have to face things alone.  However big a mess I may have created, my mother and father would somehow help me through it.

Romans chapter seven is a chapter about the despair sin and death cast over the lost sinner.  It ends with the realization that left to our own resources, we would never be able to overcome ruinous impact they hold out for us.  But just when all hope seems lost, God does for us what we could not do for ourselves, he provides hope and redemption.

Romans 8:1  “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”  We need not dread the future, because of what Christ has done. 

Leo the Great was Bishop of Rome from 440-461.  He says, “We cannot put limitations on the mercy of God or fix limits to times.  With him there is no delaying of pardon when conversion is genuine.”- Leo the Great 361 ACC Volume VIII page 361.  

Have you ever had someone hold something over your head?  Some people love to do this.  Even after we apologize, they hold on to the grudge.  They may act as if everything is forgiven, but in truth, they are holding on to it, waiting for the proper time to use it against us.   God never does this.


Steve Brown tells a great story about a little boy who killed his grandmother's pet duck. He accidentally hit the duck with a rock from his sling-shot. The boy didn't think anybody saw the foul (sorry!) deed, so he buried the duck in the backyard and didn't tell a soul.
Later, the boy found out that his sister had seen it all. And she now had the leverage of his secret and used it. Whenever it was the sister's turn to wash the dishes, take out the garbage, or wash the car, she would whisper in his ear, "Remember the duck." And then the little boy would do whatever his sister should have done.
There is always a limit to that sort of thing. Finally he'd had it. The boy went to his grandmother and, with great fear, confessed what he had done. To his surprise, she hugged him and thanked him. She said, "I was standing at the kitchen sink and saw the whole thing. I forgave you then. I was just wondering when you were going to get tired of your sister's blackmail and come to me."  

Steve Brown, Three Free Sins (Howard Books, 2012), p. 110

The very feeling that our sins have pushed us away from God should be the very impulse that propels us to pray.  

The Wesleyan Study Bible notes that John Wesley noted in his journal that he heard the choir at Saint Paul’s cathedral singing this Psalm just hours before his conversion on May 24, 1738. 

John Wesley was at a very low point in his life.  He had failed in his attempt to be a missionary in North America.  He had shown himself a coward in the face of death.  He had royally botched a failed romance, resulting in his public shame.  He felt miles apart from God.  And at this low moment in his life, he heard these words sung:  

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!

Later that night, he would hear about the forgiving grace of God, available in Jesus Christ, and he had felt his sins forgiven by God, and his soul pardoned.


Today’s featured song are “Bourne Up In Trouble” by Big Shanty, “Troubled Troubadour” by Greg Smith and the Broken English.  You will also hear music from Jinx Titantic, entitled, “Trouble of the World.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Confession


Before reading this chapter, take some time to read Psalm 119.


Confession – Confession is acknowledging our sins before God and asking for his forgiveness.  Though we can make our confessions directly to God, it is sometimes helpful to make a confession to a pastor, counselor, or trustworthy friend.

Why is confession important? Confession is necessary because sin happens. Sin is yucky. Sin makes life pretty ugly. Adam Hamilton makes the observation that sin is like horse manure.

If you own a horse or are thinking about getting a horse, one of the first things you will need in order to care properly for the animal is a manure management plan. Several websites devoted to horses say that a manure management plan is essential. It is essential because horses produce a lot of manure. In fact, one horse alone produces as much as 50 pounds of manure a day. That is more than 1,500 pounds of manure a year. 

By way of analogy, if we are going to live the Christian life, we are going to need a sin management plan. The reason we need a sin management plan is because sin happens and sometimes it happens a lot.

One possible strategy for dealing with it is to ignore it. That’s okay at first, but it isn’t long before it starts pilling up and is beginning to make the living space foul. Manure everywhere can make the living space of a horse toxic. Food and water begin to be contaminated. You soon find that it is simply everywhere and it goes well beyond unpleasant to becoming a real threat to the horse’s life. You can pile it up, but it soon become a big stinking hill that attracts flies and becomes a source of disease and pollution.

I probably don’t have to spell out how this parallels with the sin problem.  Neither do I have to explain why ignoring sin is not a very good long term strategy for the Christian life.

A second strategy is to try burying it. Burying the manure is way of getting it out of sight. Out of sight, there is always the hope that it will just go away. The problem is, manure that is buried does not decay. It does not go away. It simply sits there and gets worse. It becomes a haven of bacteria as it sits and slowly rots. Burying it and hiding it just delays having to deal with the problem. By the time you are forced to deal with it, the problem has only become worse.

A third strategy is to cover it in chemicals and burn it.   This just takes a big problem and makes it a gigantic, nasty, mess.  Few who try this solution once ever make the mistake of trying it again.  As this strategy applies to sin, using the chemical solution of drugs or alcohol to cover sin only compounds the problem in our lives.  

The only workable solution is to turn the unwanted manure into something life giving.  When manure is properly composted and spread out over a large area, it actually becomes a life giving fertilizer.  

Confession is the process of allowing God to take our sinful mess and turn it into something life giving.  

Look with me at a couple of key passages that talk about how to handle our sin problem.  Before we can handle our sin problem, we must first know what sin is.  What are some of the ways in which sin happens?

Galatians 5:19-21 (New Living Translation)
 19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

So, if this is what the sin problem looks like, what does the sin management plan consist of?  Psalm 139 gives us a good model.  Let’s look a littler closer at Psalm 139.
First, look at the end of the Psalm, verses 23-24. David, the writer of this Psalm is inviting God to search his heart and to see if there is anything in him that displeases God. This passage is a bit of a paradox. In verses 1-4, David has already acknowledged that God knows everything about us. God knows us inside and out. God knows us better than we know ourselves. So what is David inviting God to do?
In asking God to search our heart, we are really asking God to help us know the true state of our heart. We are asking God to help us look honestly at ourselves. This request implies that we also need God to help us deal honestly with what we find. That is the first step toward confession, to see the actual state of our heart - to see it as God sees it.
But, in order to have the courage to take an honest look at our soul, we need to know that we are loved. Of this, we must be confident. God knows us perfectly. Yet, he loves us in spite of our brokeness.  Look at verse 5:
“Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.”
And verses 7 and 12 teach us that nothing can separate us from the presence of God.   Look at verse 7:

“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”
Relationally, sin separates us from God, only in as far as we let it.  But sin can never cause God to quit loving us.  Even when we are in sin, and when we feel miles apart from God, he stands just behind us, waiting to receive us into his loving arms the moment we turn to him.

The second idea Psalm 139 teaches us about confession is this: sin can damage our mind, body, soul, and spirit, but it cannot diminish our worth.

For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
In a Psalm about confession, David is still able to celebrate his own worth before God. Psalm 139 reminds us that we do not have let sin get the last word about who and what we are. Sin does not have to define us. Ultimately, what defines us and gives our lives meaning is the fact that we have been made by God. We have been created in his image and are of immeasurable value to God. So valuable are we that God gave his only Son to redeem us.

Look at verse 19-22

Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
 For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.
 Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”
Now, what do these verses have to do with confession? Well, it is important to remember that David was a work in progress. He was still undergoing spiritual reconstruction. When David opens himself up in the light of God, some pretty yucky things come out in the open. This is the hard rub. It is why so many never get serious about the process of confession. Many people are afraid to take a good look inside their soul. It is easier to make a confession shallow and superficial. It's less painful to stay skin deep. Otherwise, we risk finding out what God already knows about us - we are sinners.

David did not succumb to this temptation. David was so secure in God’s love that he was willing to be completely open to God. David held nothing back. David was able to be vulnerable to God because he knew that he could trust God totally.
  
What about you?  Are  you secure about God’s love for you?  Are you able to be completely open to God.   Are you willing for God to show you who and what you really are?  Are you willing to let God expose broken areas and dark passageways in our hearts?  Will you let God help you work through the sin and dysfunction that lies within?

Look at the last two verses:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
David admits that he is not always good at judging what he finds inside. He can’t always tell what is good and what isn’t. He admits that he doesn’t always know the difference. But he lays it all before God. David knew that God can always make sense of the stuff going on the inside of us. David didn’t want anything to stand before him and God. So, David was saying, "If there is anything in me that displeases you, help me deal with it."

How refreshing! David doesn’t make excuses for his sins or blame someone else for them. He simply says, “God, if there is anything in my heart that displeases you, remove it or transform it, so that it doesn’t hinder my walk with you.”

That is the kind of honesty and courage that it takes to make a confession. But what is confession? First, it is calling sin what God calls it – sin. Our sins are not mistakes or weaknesses, they are sins. They are behaviors and inward attitudes that are displeasing to God.

The first part of confession is calling sin by its right name.

The second step is to renounce sin. We are not supposed to make peace with sin or learn to live with it. We are supposed to renounce it. With the help of God, we kick sin out of our lives and tell it to go live somewhere else because it is no longer welcomed in our life.

Third, we ask for God’s forgiveness.  1 John 1:9 says:

1 John 1:9
New International Version (NIV)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Fourth, we take personal responsibility for our sins, making restitution if needed.  

Matthew 5:22-24 (New Living Translation)
22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone,[] you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,[] you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,[] you are in danger of the fires of hell.[d]
 23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice[e] at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

One last matter:  Is confession something that can happen just between us and God or do you need to see a priest?

The first answer is that you don’t have to have a priest to confess your sins. You can go right to God, through his Son Jesus. This is sufficient and all that is needed.

1 Timothy 2:3-5 (New Living Translation)
3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.
However, sometimes it is very helpful to make a confession to a trusted friend or pastor. Yes, we can go right to Jesus, without the mediation of a priest. Yet, having a physical presence helps us to grasp what we already know. Telling a close Christian friend or confidant can be highly therapeutic. Telling a pastor can really help us have closure. The other person can embody the presence of God's grace. That is why we read in James:

James 5:15-17 (New Living Translation)
15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
 16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

I need to say two things about confessing to another person, besides God. First, choose your confessor carefully. Not everyone can handle hearing a confession. Also, some people are not trustworthy. Second, if you need to confess something, give the person a heads up, making sure they have the time to give you. There is a time and a place for confession, even when given to a pastor. You don’t want to do it in a public place, or five minutes before the pastor leads worship. Make proper arrangements with your confessor.

Dare # 15 Confession - I dare you to develop and implement a biblical sin-management plan for your life.


Sabbath


Today, we are continuing our series, Opening Ourselves to Grace, by looking at the role the Sabbath plays in our spiritual health; but, some of you may not even know what a Sabbath is.  

Sabbath – Sabbath is the practice of taking regular time for rest and public worship.  Regular rest helps us to be renewed by God and to learn to depend on him when we cannot or are not working.

But where does this idea come from? It comes from the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are those Ten Laws given by God, by which all humankind is supposed to live. The 4th commandment is about keeping the Sabbath, and we find it in the 20th chapter of the book of Exodus.

Exodus 20:8-11
New International Version (NIV)

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The Sabbath is something God’s people have observed for thousands of years.  And, it is one of God’s most precious gifts to his people.   But what is the Sabbath?

The Sabbath is a rhythm of work and rest. It is a rhythm of being productive and of just being. It is something God has woven into the very fabric or creation. In Genesis God creates the world in six days, but on the seventh day God rested. And, he invites us into that rest. We follow God in keeping this rest. For six days, we go, go, go. But on the seventh day we just are. This is Sabbath.

On the Sabbath day, we remember that our worth is not based on our productivity. Our worth is something woven into us. God has given us our worth. It is found simply in who and what we are. We are human beings, not human doings. 

On the Sabbath, we remember that we are finite. God’s rest comes, not as a necessity, for God does not grow weary or fatigued. His rest flows from the simplicity of who he is. In eternity, before God created anything, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simply existed in perfect community. God invites us into his rest as a way of extending and inviting us into the fellowship of the Trinity. We rest in order to be present to God and those we love. But we also rest because our resources can be drained. We cannot be all things to all people. We cannot accomplish all that we would like. We cannot be all places at once. To observe the Sabbath is to recognize our own boundaries and limitations.  It is to acknowledge our finitude.

Sabbath is a gift given to the entire community. God gives it the whole human family. Among God’s people, even the lowliest and the poorest deserve the Sabbath. It is an inalienable right, which belongs to each of us.

The word Sabbath means to stop. The Sabbath is not supposed to look like every other day. On this day, we stop. We rest. We worship God. We give thanks for all we have. We love our families, and we refresh our souls.

Eugene Peterson writes, “Sabbath: uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God was and is doing. If we don’t regularly quit work one day a week, we take ourselves far too seriously. The moral sweat pouring off our brow blinds us to the primal action of God in and around us.” - Working the Angles⁠1

Light a candle, alone or with friends.  Let each of you speak about those things that are left to do, and as the candle burns, allow the cares to melt away.  Do not be anxious about tomorrow, said Jesus.  The worries of today are sufficient for today.  Whatever remains to be done, for now, let it be.  It will not get done tonight.  In the Sabbath time we take our hand off the plow, and allow God the earth to care for what is needed.  Let it be...
Wayne Muller, Sabbath⁠2

Sabbath is a way or ordering our life and living according to the rhythm built into the very fabric of our being.  There is a humanitarian aspect to keeping the Sabbath. People are more than just machines, good only for what they can produce. The Sabbath reminds us of that and protects people from being reduced to units of production. During the aftermath of the
French Revolution, the Sabbath was abolished, being substituted with one day’s rest in ten.

Voltaire said, “We cannot destroy Christianity until we first destroy the Sabbath.” But apparently the experiment was a disaster; men and women crumbled under the strain and
animals literally collapsed in the streets. People need Sabbath because they’re people, not machines.  – Mark Mitchell⁠3

But, let’s take some time to look at some specific questions about keeping the Sabbath.



First, on what day are we supposed to observe the Sabbath? According to the Old Testament, the Sabbath begins on Friday evening and ends on Saturday evening. For a full 24 hours, God’s people are simply supposed to rest in God’s presence.

Ah, does this mean that the Seventh Day Adventists are right? Should we be doing church on Saturday? Well, not exactly. Very early on (the 1st century), Christian people began worshiping on Sunday, the first day of the week. They did so because Jesus’ resurrection happened on Sunday. This became a particularly important symbol to early Christians. They began to call Sunday, the Lord’s Day. They began thinking of Easter Sunday as being the first day of the new creation. Thus, Sunday became the day worship.

For example, we see this in Acts:

Acts 20:7 (New Living Translation)

 7 On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper.[] Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight.

We see this same pattern among the churches Paul started.  

1 Corinthians 16:2 (New Living Translation)
2 On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.
Okay, does this mean that Sunday is the day on which we are supposed to observe the Sabbath?  Well, maybe.  But Paul says:

Romans 14:4-6 (New Living Translation)

4 Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval.

5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.

Well, does this mean that the Sabbath is no longer important for Christians? No! For starters, Jesus never rescinded the Ten Commandments. They are still the Law of God, and we are still required to obey God’s commands, which include the Sabbath. 

Jesus observed the Sabbath but did so in a particularly different way than some of the people of that day. For example: while Jesus took the command to rest very seriously, he did not believe that we had to be ridiculously legalistic about the whole thing. In Mark two, Jesus’ disciples pick some grain to eat. That seemed like work to some of Jesus’ critics and so they castigated Jesus for being so lax about the Sabbath.

In Matthew 12, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and is accused of breaking the Sabbath. Those who criticized him had the gall to say hat he should have waited until the next day to do his miracle.   

To all of these charges Jesus said that the Sabbath was meant to be a gift and not a burden. It was meant to be enjoyed not endured. Yes, take it seriously. But take the Sabbath seriously by not taking yourself so seriously. We need the Sabbath, and we need to follow the rhythm of taking one day out of seven to worship, rest, and rejuvenate. This should not be private, but something we do together as families and as congregations. 

And for many, Sunday works great for keeping the Sabbath. Most us do not work on Sunday, and our children are out of school. But, Sunday does not work for everyone. And, until we decide to go back to living like the Amish, we will never be able to establish one day on which everyone observes the Sabbath. Why not? Well, if your house catches on fire on a Sunday, you expect there to be someone sitting in the dispatch office. You and I expect some emergency workers to be available if something goes wrong. If you or a loved one have a stroke, you expect for their to be medical personnel at the hospital when your ambulance arrives.  All of this means that someone must work on Sunday.

Many of you expect hot food to be waiting at your favorite restaurants when church is over. All of us want our electricity and water run on Sunday, thus making it necessary for some to be at the power plant on Sunday.  

All of this is to say, we need to insist on the necessity of observing the Sabbath weekly. But, we also need to be creative enough to figure out how to keep Sabbath in a society that is open 24/7. And, we in the Church need to provide worship opportunities at times other that on Sunday morning so that everyone is given an opportunity to worship each week. Unless we are going to live like the Amish, we have to provide more than one weekly time for offering worship services.  

What does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy? To keep one day holy each week is about making the Sabbath a priority. It is about making a commitment to this day being different from the other six.  It means learning to follow the rhythm of Sabbath built into our very being.  

Sabbath is a way of ordering our life. We order it so that so that at least one day a week is characterized by the three components of 1. Rest, 2. Mercy and 3. Worship. 

J.I. Packer says we should "choose the leisure activities that bring us closest to God, to people, to beauty, and to all that ennobles." The important thing is to detach ourselves from our everyday work. The Sabbath is a time to say, “I’m not a human doing but a human being. I’m more than my work.” It takes faith to do this. You have to say, “I’ll stop working and trust God that work I could be doing on this day will somehow get done. God will see to
that.”

“There have to be times to sit with your gratitude for the good gifts in your life that get forgotten in the rush.  – to celebrate and play and roll down hills and splash in water and spread paint on paper or walls or each other.  There have to be times to sit and wait for the fullness of God that replenishes the body, mind, and soul –if you can even stand to be so full.  There has to be time for the fullness of time, or time is meaningless.” Ruth Haley Barton in Sacred Rhythms⁠4

The Sabbath is a precious gift of God to the human race.  It is also a commandment.  We ignore and disregard this commandment to our own demise.  Like all of God’s laws, we do not break it, so much as we break ourselves upon it, when we choose to disobey it.

Among the things God considers most important and holy is the practice of setting aside one day a week simply to stop.

Dare # 14 Sabbath - I dare you to set aside one day a week for the purposes of 1. Rest, 2. Mercy and 3. Worship.  

anImage_8.tiff
1 Peterson, Eugene H. WORKING THE ANGLES the Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Eerdmans, 1988.
2 Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. 1st ed. Bantam, 2000.
3 I could not find the information for the source.  I only know that Mark Mitchell is the author.
4 Barton, Ruth Haley. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. annotated edition. IVP Books, 2006.

Private Worship



Private WorshipPrivate worship is about using our daily work or play as an opportunity to praise God. It is about doing our routine activities for God’s pleasure.  Related to notion of private worship is the idea of vocation.

Vocation: Vocation is the belief that all of life is a calling. In fact, the English word vocation comes from the Latin “vocare” which means to call. Christians believe that Jesus is the model for how we are supposed to live.  Not one aspect of life is beyond the scope of our relationship with him.  That does not mean that we try to live like a 1st century Palestinian artisan.  It does mean that Jesus gave us the perfect example of how to love God and other people.

So what is it all about? What is the purpose of life? Christians living in 17th century Great Britain had a profound way of answering this question. Their shorter catechism says that the chief purpose of humankind is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That’s pretty good. Our chief end, our purpose and reason for existing is to glorify and enjoy God forever. This answer gets to the heart of the idea of vocation. Let’s take at a look a few more aspects of living out our vocation.

First, it is essential to take the biblical idea that all humans are created in the image of God seriously. Human beings bear the image of God. As image-bearers, we have an especially significant role to play. The rest of creation is supposed to be able to see what God is like by the way we live. Being created in the image of God does not mean we physically resemble God. The Bible is clear that God is Spirit and not a human being. The Bible is also clear about our relationship to rest of creation. The name of the first human, Adam, comes from the Hebrew word for dirt. By naming Adam after the ground from which he came, God was telling humankind about our kinship to the earth; about our interdependence and our relationship to the world in which we live. Physically, we should not be disturbed by the thought of sharing some of our physical traits with the animals. Like the animals we have emotional responses, appetites, and, we share the same circulatory system of common mammals. We also reproduce in a similar way to other living things.  

But the similarities between human beings and animals end in our moral nature. Humans have a much broader capacity for doing good and pursuing evil. An animal has only a limited capacity for good or evil. For example my dog can be good only in a limited way. He can refrain from digging holes in the yard and can be gentle with children. In the same way, an animal can only do so much harm and has a limited capacity for evil.

By contrast, humans can seek after profound levels of good. We can write poetry and paint beautiful abstracts. People can serve the poor, feed the hungry, and seek after cures for diseases. Humans can also pursue profound and disturbing levels of evil. We can steal and rape. We can build weapons of mass destruction and ravage the natural resources around us.

We were created in the image of God, and this means we have a vast moral capacity. God’s intention was that we would demonstrate God’s moral character before a watching creation. God intended for the other living things in our world to know what God is like by the way humankind lives.
That means our moral choices become a way of honoring and loving God.  Every aspect of our life is an opportunity to worship God.  What we do at home, our professional lives, the way we study in school, and the way we play all become a way of worshiping God.  Jesus said, “let your good deeds show so that people may see them and give glory to God.”  God cares about how we live our lives.  If our life is God’s gift to us, then what we do with our life is our gift to God.

Second, we are to be agents of change, bringing God’s rule to bear on all of life. In Matthew chapter five, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the world.” In ancient times, people depended on salt to preserve food. Without salt, there was no way to keep most food from going bad. In the same way that salt preserve food from rotting, Christian people are to be agents for change in our world, keeping evil at bay and preserving what is good in our world.

God desires to protect and preserve what is good in culture. Wherever we find good things in our communities, such as work on behalf of the poor, or the arts reflecting virtue, we are to be a champion of these things. We are to work for the good of our world and those who live in it. Likewise, we are to work against those things which corrupt and tear at the fabric of society. We are to be the salt by which God preserves the good and restrains that which ruins the good.
Third, whatever you do, do for God. Colossians 3 says: “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Regardless of your context, whether it is an athletic competition, school, or the workplace, the primary reason for doing our best is because of our dedication to God. It is God we should be seeking to please. Ultimately, it will be God that we will answer to for the ways in which we have used the gifts and talents he has given us.

All of our skills and abilities come from God. How we choose our line of work matters to God. Our work should be something that will be of service to others. It should be honorable work, never causing shame to God. If we keep this in sight, whatever we pursue can be worship to God.

The writer of Colossians tells us to pursue excellence because our service, our work, our play, and our study are ways in which we can serve God. It is essential to keep this thought before us at all times. 

Christian spirituality is not just about personal emotions and private devotion. Neither is it simply about acts of piety. Honest work is as important as honest prayer. Promoting good is something we do inside and outside the church. Resisting evil is our way of standing with God in our world. We serve more than human bosses, and we work for a reward better than a paycheck. Our vocation is to be God’s people on the job and off the job.

Fourth, we are called not only yo glorify God but also to enjoy Him forever.  John 17:3, Jesus says, “This is eternal life, that we may know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.” The whole idea of vocation flows out of our relationship with God.  We seek to honor God in our work and play, because of our love of God.  The only true way to find satisfaction and fulfillment in work and play is to find all of life’s meaning in the person of Jesus.  

What does God want for us?  He wants us to be people through whom others can see God. He also wants us to live our lives in such a way that we can experience God in all of life. Jesus does not want us to experience his presence only in the context of Sunday worship and church.  He wants us to know and experience his presence in the midst of our home life and office.  He wants us to experience his pleasure of us on the playground and around the yard.

How should we live? We should live as if all of life were both a gift and a calling from God. We should live in the recognition that our gifts and talents come from God. They were given to us so that we might bring honor to God. This is idea of vocation. All of life comes from God, and God desires to be glorified in all of life. He also desires for us to enjoy him in every aspect of life. 

Private WorshipPrivate worship is about using our daily work or play as an opportunity to praise God. It is about doing our routine activities for God’s pleasure.  Related to notion of private worship is the idea of vocation.

Dare # 13 Private Worship - I dare you to find ways of turning your ordinary work and play into ways of loving God.