Sabbath Values

Gentle Reader,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

– Exodus 20:8-11 (NKJV)

Did you know that I’m something called a “content creator?” That I’m supposed to have 20-25 new graphics cycling through Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest every single day? That I’m supposed to respond to every tweet ever?

Oof.

There are a load of articles out there that purport to share the secrets to success, that will tell you how to do this writing thing “right.” Almost all of them encourage spending more time on the internet, specifically social media, than is healthy. How can it be healthy to dedicate most of your waking hours to attempting to “go viral” or catch clicks? Even with the use of scheduling tools, that’s a whole lot of minutes spent pinning and posting.

Minutes when the sun rises, bathing the new day in all its glorious color and promise.

Minutes when the snow falls, gently, covering the ground in a layer of pristine white.

Minutes when God beckons, His Spirit calling us to open up that Book and receive the goodness therein.

The first pages of Genesis tell us that work is God-designed and given. We get ourselves into trouble, and quickly, when we don’t have something useful with which to occupy our time. We need to live well and wisely, for the glory of God and the good of others. For me, this means writing, and writing in the year 2019 does equal social media in all of its weirdness.

What the year 2019 does not equal is a rejection of rest.

I work from home, here on this blog and as a virtual assistant for a couple of ministries. It’s hard to flip the “off” switch. Boundaries get fuzzy and the hours blend together until I’ve found that a whole day has gone by with me bent over my laptop or phone instead of actually engaging with the world. All right if this happens from time to time, but a bad habit overall. I ignore my body’s signals, the ones that tell me it’s time to get up and move around. I ignore my mind’s signals, the ones that tell me to step away and get a new perspective. I ignore my heart’s signals, the ones that tell me I’ve been too isolated and need some connection.

Worst, I ignore the Holy Spirit’s signals, the ones that tell me that I can’t serve Him if I don’t spend time with Him.

The classic, stereotypical issue for us all. The work becomes the driving force, the thing in which we invest our entire sense of self. We shift from “human being” to “human doing,” bound to ever-increasing productivity and chasing ever-elusive popularity.

Running at a feverish pace.

Into that, the Spirit whispers, “Stop.”

The command to keep the Sabbath was never meant to be a burden. The words – rest, quiet, holiness – came from God’s mouth as a way of showing us our limitations, reminding us to depend on Him for all of our needs (material and otherwise), and as a sign of His compassion. He knows that we can’t do it all. He knows that we are fragile and finite. He knows us better than we know ourselves.

And this Sabbath, it’s not just a day. Oh, it’s important to have a day. A whole 24-hour period set aside for worship and rest. (Doesn’t matter what day it is; let other people fight about that). As with all things involving the law, there is the letter and the spirit. On this side of the Cross, we seek to understand and apply the spirit behind the letter, and we see that Sabbath, that rest, that dependence upon God, is to permeate each day. It is an essential aspect of our faith.

A day, and more than a day.

A set of values. A way of walking through this life knowing that we are not defined by analytics. Or sales. Or whatever we are tempted to define ourselves by. We are, instead, defined by God Himself. And He says we are His children, the sheep of His pasture, the apple of His eye.

And so we rest.

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Fresh, New, Clean

Gentle Reader,

“What miserable frauds you are, you scribes and Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, while the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. Can’t you see, Pharisee? First wash the inside of a cup, and then you can clean the outside.”

– Matthew 23:26 (Phillips)

I cleaned out my closet on Saturday. No, I didn’t ask if each item sparked joy. No, I didn’t thank my t-shirts. I was ruthless about it, as I always am when I clean or organize, because I do not understand why anyone finds sentimental value or importance in possessions. (Love those that do. Just don’t understand you). Plus I have the bad habit of wearing my clothes until they are threadbare, often finding it difficult and guilt-inducing to click that “buy” button for myself. And so I ended up with two full trash bags that went to the thrift store and a list of things that need replacing.

I’ve been thinking about this for two days.

It’s easy to clean out my closet.

Not so easy to clean out my heart.

Jesus, He gets picky the longer you walk with Him. He says that He has the right of Lordship over every aspect of your life. Even that little, secret, doesn’t-hurt-anyone piece over there in that dark corner. Always the perfect Gentlemanly Sovereign, however, He doesn’t force us to allow Him access. He doesn’t pry our white-knuckled hands from around the cherished thing. He waits. And He works – in situations, through others, in the quiet voice of His Spirit – giving us opportunity after opportunity to surrender.

The longer you walk with Jesus, the more intimately confrontational He gets. It’s not always loud or dramatic. It can be a quiet war, the kind where you’re continually pulling that thing off of the altar, only to put it back again, only to take it up once more.

Harder, perhaps, when your tendencies are toward the Pharisaical.

I understand them, these people with whom Jesus had such a hard time. When we read passages like the one above, it’s easy to assume that Jesus really didn’t love those who were so bound up in rule-keeping. Oh, but He did. He really did. He wouldn’t have spent so much time confronting them if He didn’t care.

The Pharisees have a bad reputation, and I can’t say that it’s completely undeserved. They did put people under bondage. The law that was meant to bring freedom and point the way to the Messiah became a curse. There is an arrogance in their interactions with Jesus; they thought they knew best. And that thought? It arose from fear.

Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and seventy years of exile, God’s broken people didn’t want to wind up in that situation again. Read Nehemiah. Ezra. Haggai. Zechariah. They stumbled, fell, made horrible choices. But there’s this general sense of, “Never again. We’ll stop breaking God’s law. We’ll rebuild. We’ll get this right.”

Thus the obsession with minutiae. What constitutes work on the Sabbath? How should this law be interpreted? Who can we trust to understand?

A relationship to and with God based on anxiety.

An anxiety that morphed into arrogance, as anxiety so often does. First, the need to self-protect. Then, the need to self-promote.

We are just like them, these people we read about in the pages of Scripture. Each of us at once the Prodigal Son who runs and the Older Son who stays. The libertine and the Pharisee. Terrified that God is holding out on us and terrified that He’ll strike us dead if we don’t get it exactly right. Doing our best to project the right image, whether in the running toward the sin or in attending church every time the doors are open.

God knows we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves each and every day.

We need to be reminded that we are saved by grace, through faith, and that we express our thanks to and love for God in our obedience. Repentance, justification, regeneration, sanctification. Get this out of order and the only result is pain.

It’s a brand new day as you read this, whenever you read this, for any moment is the moment to begin again. Whether you have been living in Jesus’ shadow for years or have been roaming the world far from Him. Whether you think you’ve got your life together or you know you’re a mess. Right now, this second, you can surrender. You can give that thing over to Him and trust that you will be met with great grace and marvelous mercy.

I look at my closet, pleased with how tidy it is. I hear the Spirit whisper in my heart, “Now, what about this, here? Can we tidy this up?”

And I know – the inside, where layers of dirt accumulate far too quickly – needs another good scrubbing.

Blessedly, He knows what He’s doing.

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Five Minute Friday: Where

Gentle Reader,

I am not energetic. I know I am not energetic. I’d like to be. The spirit is there. The flesh is stupid.

But sometimes, I get excited and let myself run around.

Inevitably, the crash.

It hit last night.

Kate says: where.

Go.

“Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it that you’re seeking?” Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve carried Him away, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.”

– John 20:15 (CSB)

This is one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels. All of Jesus’ friends were devastated by His death. It was not the end they were expecting. In a darkened room, doors locked, Peter sat, his betrayal playing on a tortuous loop in his mind. John, the youngest, probably tapped his foot incessantly, full of nervous energy. Everyone else in various states of contemplation and distress. The air thick with the heaviness of mourning.

The women?

They go out.

They didn’t scatter when Jesus was arrested. They didn’t run from the foot of the Cross. Now, they moved toward the epicenter of their grief.

Then Mary, who had been tormented by demons for years before a commanding word from Jesus set her free, stayed. After the other women had left. After Peter and John, shocked by her announcement that the tomb was empty, had been to investigate. Her mind couldn’t comprehend what her eyes saw.

She doesn’t immediately recognize her Savior and Best Friend. She just wants to know what happened to His body. She’ll take it. She’ll care for it. One last act of love and devotion for the Man who saw beyond her agony, who lifted her out of the pit.

How was Mary going to handle the dead weight of a man in his early 30s? Where would she take the body? What would she do with it?

Then He says her name. Gently, I imagine, but with all the authority of the One who fashioned her in the secret places.

It wasn’t about where she could take Jesus.

It was about where He would take her.

Stop.

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In the Snow, Beneath the Pines

Gentle Reader,

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

– 1 Corinthians 13:39-41 (MSG)

I stood shivering in the cold, despite layers of clothing, my eyes, never of too much use in the darkness, scanning the yards ahead of me anyway, watching for any sign of trouble. My warm breath mingled with the frigid air, swirling clouds ascending to the treetops above. Weak lamps cast a pale yellow glow, unable to compete with the beauty of the stars above, but useful in their own way. Laughter and screaming filled my ears, never mind that they had all been instructed to be quiet. Panting and full of good cheer, a couple of teenagers fell at my feet, soaked to the skin but not seeming to mind.

I hadn’t planned to be there, in the snow, beneath the pines. Hadn’t anticipated earning a new nickname that I shall not reveal here because reasons. Hadn’t dreamed of climbing on a stage and lip syncing to “The Schuyler Sisters” with someone with whom I apparently share a brain. Hadn’t longed for sleepless nights. Hadn’t pictured myself in suddenly deep conversations. And certainly hadn’t, in any way, thought that I would be so thoroughly and completely embraced.

Drenched in love of the most wonderful variety.

All following hard on a year filled with harshness, with brokenness and rejection. I hardly know how to handle such acceptance. I’ve come to expect glares, frowns and tight-lipped whispers when I enter a room. Grown accustomed to the fear associated with knowing you’re being talked about – because you dared to disagree, because you went outside the accepted boundaries, because you aren’t perfect and wonderful and exactly what everyone wants you to be at all times. Believed that every bit of gossip and petty meanness was exactly what I deserved. Wondered if I really was that unwanted, undesirable and unloved.

So to have a group of people actually want you around… Encountering nothing but smiles and laughter…

Frightens and delights in equal measure.

Helping at a youth retreat is work, no doubt. My whole body feels it today. Neck aches from headbanging. Side of my hand throbs from pounding it on a table while shouting, “One two three four, JFK, FDR!” I’m not sure I will ever be warm again after giving my coat, scarf, gloves, snowpants and boots to people who claimed to have “packed everything!” Definitely had a moment when I thought duct-taping them all to the side of the lodge was a good idea.

But I’d do it again.

The things they said:

“You’re so fun and young, like one of us. But then we can talk to you about real stuff and that’s cool.”

“Would you pray with me for a second? There’s this thing going on…”

“You brought M&Ms? Hand ’em over!”

“Can I sit by you?”

“Ugh. Why don’t the boys shower? Their hallway smells like butt.”

“I frickin’ love you.”

“You are the prettiest!”

Makes a lady feel all bright and snuggly inside. The gooey, chewy center that she tries to hide all exposed but, for the first time in a long time, she’s okay with her tender heart beating loudly for all the world to hear. She is not trying to defend herself or be anyone other than the woman God so carefully designed and placed into this context. She wants to wrap her arms around all of them, teen attendee and adult leader alike, because she loves them so. She’s full of life, overflowing with it, and wants nothing more than to be a gracious, healing presence, soft and gentle and kind and warm. She hopes to be, empowered by the Spirit, a safe, comforting port in the storms, to provide the shelter of a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for any and all.

For every compliment they gave, I had the joy of showering them with words of affirmation in return. I got to watch their eyes light up with wonder that someone saw good things in them, told them that they are smart and capable and a powerful force for good in the world. I got to watch them take steps, some microscopic but real, of belief. Belief in God, belief in themselves.

What a privilege that is.

Who am I, that this should be something I get to do?

I forget sometimes that this body of mine is fragiler than most. That’s the thing about walking around with an organ that’s doing it’s level best to kill you; when you get a reprieve from the pain, you feel energized and free and so you forget all the caution and warnings and go all in. I was blessed with a few hours’ release from the sharp stabs in my side. So I took all the hugs and knocking about that I could get. Then it came screaming back, a tangible reminder of my desire for resurrection wholeness, and I had to steal away for a moment to let the tears fall.

Then I kept taking the hugs and the knocking about.

It was worth gritting my teeth for them. It will always be worth gritting my teeth for them. Because they need a person, who isn’t a parent because what do parents know, to be present. To be willing to handle the discomfort in the service of true life and love.

I curl beneath a heavy blanket, dog on one side and coffee on the other. I know I have yet to truly begin processing all that I witnessed and participated in this weekend. My journal awaits, ready for the deeper notions and feelings, the things that I can’t write here but are safe before God’s eyes. It will soon come spilling out in sentences that make sense only to Him.

For now, this. Utter physical exhaustion. A glowing soul. Spirit full of love given and received. Mind entranced by thoughts of what might be next. Pessimism obliterated by optimism. Miraculous, divine and unexpected loosening of heart-knots.

Without doubt, supremely blessed.

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