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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Melted Chocolate Blanket

Melted

Gentle Reader,

I feel quiet.

There has to be a better way of describing the sense that pervades my body. Usually, all cells are on high alert, every neuron firing quickly, every chemical either too abundant or to scarce for equilibrium. Though one who despises feeling and has moments of wishing she could actually become a robot, I feel deeply, constantly and unendingly. Changes in environment give me headaches. A furtive glance from someone, anyone, makes my mind whir, attempting to discern the meaning. One stress-point away from panic. Code Red, all the time, always.

But today: not.

No hum in my brain, no throb in my veins, no ache in my stomach. It’s like I’m cocooned in a blanket made of melted chocolate. Not too hot, not to cold. Just right. (And, if such a thing existed, delicious).

It’s a wonder to feel this way. The husband and I were talking the other night about how we both have a niggling wondering in the back of our minds every moment of each day – Is this it? Will the world break out into war right now? Is someone pressing the button to launch the nuke? Those questions are not unique to our generation, of course. But they sure are exhausting.

Because we all want peace. We all want safety.

At least, I think we do. I hope we do. The screaming heads that make their way to the television screens and the Twitter streams can’t be representative of the majority – can they?

I sip my iced coffee as I look at the screen and wonder where this post is coming from and where it is going. That’s the thing with writing; the author doesn’t always know. My desire is to communicate…something to you today, something that I’m not sure I can find the words for.

The Psalmist says it best:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

– Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)

We’ve heard this verse a million times. People love to quote it at those who feel stressed out. Be still, man. God has you. That’s true. That’s not what I want to talk about.

Rûm: to rise, rise up, be high, be lofty, be exalted

StudyLight

Exalt: to elevate by praise or in estimation

Merriam-Webster

So many people clamor for our attention. So many people want to convince us that they, and they alone, have all the answers. Pundits and lobbyists and advertisers and celebrities. People who, more often than not, have no actual expertise in the area about which they are pontificating. But they catch our attention. Because they’re loud and flashy and popular and we all want to be part of what’s popular.

Meanwhile, God doesn’t scream. He doesn’t strive. He doesn’t bully or push us. He doesn’t jump on bandwagons, make false promises or have to “walk back” anything He says. The lesson in confidence and identity is not learned in studying the biggest Instagram influencer or reading yet another self-help article (like we have time or attention for books these days. Yes, that’s me throwing shade. Go get a library card). It’s learned by looking at God.

He is who He is. He will do what He says He will do.

Period.

Let Christ Himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted Him so high, and has given Him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

– Philippians 2:5-11 (Phillips)

I’ve read, quoted and written about these verses more times than I can recall. Can’t help but dwell on them again as I consider God’s exaltation guarantee. It’s going to happen. The time will come when He will be lifted up. He will be praised. There will be no more debate or questions. Everyone who was, is and has yet to be will hit the deck in adoration.

Isn’t it interesting that He waits? That He doesn’t go on a cable infotainment show to try to prove how great He is? God is utterly, completely, secure in Himself. Human opinion doesn’t rattle Him in the slightest. He’s just not…bothered by whatever the theological equivalent of internet trolls are. He keeps on loving, keeps on tirelessly working to draw people to Himself, keeps on unfolding the plan set in motion since before time began.

Meditating on this reality is, I think, where the melted chocolate blanket feeling comes from. If God is secure and I am in Him, then I am secure. My identity, value, reputation, gifts, talents, all of it. None of it rests on any person who is just as flawed, fragile and feeble as me. I do not have to attempt to dredge up a sense of well-being in this stupid, chaotic world by clinging to a brand or a place or a political party. People don’t like what I write, okay. My name gets dragged through the mud, all right. Someone does hit that bomb button, hello nuclear winter and Heaven.

Someone said to me recently, “What people want is peace. They think they want solutions to this or that problem, but the driving thing is the longing for peace. Only God can bring that.” 

Only God can bring the peace because only He is peace. In knowing and loving Him is found the strength, the iron will, the sheer cussed stubbornness to keep going. Preaching the words that glorify Him. Working for the things that please Him. Loving as He loves. Even when someone whips those words back at you like a cat o’ nine tails. Even when the job never gets done. Even when hate would be easier than love.

We have a chance to be truly different when we follow Christ. In fact, that’s kind of a big part of the point. Transformation isn’t just about Eternity. It’s about the here and now. No screaming, scrabbling or stabbing for us. Instead, let’s walk through this world with quiet dignity and grace, leaving footprints of mercy and justice wherever we go. Let’s embrace and live out our status as culturally dissident residents of an alien nation, illegal spiritual immigrants who won’t assimilate into the larger society. Not because we are reactive and hostile, but because we hold onto the peace of the melted chocolate blanket.

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Five Minute Friday: Release

Release

Gentle Reader,

As I do not tan but simply reflect light back to the sun, it comes as no surprise that, when I’m tired (beyond the daily level of tired; the sort of weariness that comes with not sleeping well and attempting to cope with a three-day headache), I look like death warmed up. Glanced at myself in the mirror as I dressed this morning and the dark circles were oh-so-prominent. The next time anyone remarks upon them, I think I’ll respond with, “Yeah, but you should see the other guy.”

Paleness also makes finding and purchasing the proper shade of foundation an adventure. Really, Target? You don’t carry a line that includes a shade that sits somewhere between pristine paper before it’s been printed on and WhiteOut? Way to make my life difficult.

Are those bruises all up and down my arms? No, just the veins showing through. Except for that. That one is a bruise. Which I probably got from rolling over too hard last night.

Oh, well. At least I won’t have a football-like complexion when I’m 50.

It’s the little things.

Kate says: release.

Go.

So I’m a pacifist, right? I believe in non-violent solutions and keeping the temper under control. “The fruit of the Spirit is peace” and all that.

Except, I have a nasty temper. I work at being conciliatory. I strive to compromise when possible. I am neither outwardly expressive or explosive. But I have to confess, there are times when I genuinely fantasize about punching someone in the mouth. Usually with a right hook, followed by an upper-cut if he’s being particularly obnoxious. My blood rises, along with my voice (in pitch, not volume) and my fingernails dig into my palms.

People tend to think that pacifism is about cowardice and apathy. It’s not. Certainly not for me, at any rate. Learning to let go of those destructive urges, to release them alongside a slow, count-laden breath, is based in a desire to be free. To walk through life in and with the peace referenced above, and the joy and the love and all the other things that are promised to those who abide in Christ.

I can’t abide in Him if I’m not releasing the anger.

Stop.

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Content Yo Self

Along theWay @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I love Parks and Recreation.

Chris and I watched the show as it aired live. We’ve watched it completely through several times on Netflix. We can quote entire scenes word-for-word. Chris shares Ron Swanson’s love of woodworking and breakfast foods. At any given time I can be heard singing Jean-Ralphio’s classic, “Technically I’m homeless!” Both of us appreciate the beauty that is the Knope/Wyatt relationship. If we believed in spirit animals, mine would be April Ludgate and his would be Andy Dwyer. Chris Traeger and Ann Perkins are amazing land mermaids. Tammy 1, Tammy 2, Jeremy Jamm, Bobby Newport, Lil’ Sebastian…

Don’t worry – I didn’t forget the joy of Tom and Donna:

We are lit-er-ally P&R super-fans.

“Treat yo self” is a wonderful idea. In a culture that’s all about work, work and more work, as well as remaining constantly connected through social media and smartphones, it’s important to build a little space in our lives for relaxation. Eat a cupcake, see a movie, buy an expensive pair of shoes (that you’ve saved money for. Hashtag Dave Ramsey). In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with “treat yo self.”

But you know humans.

We just can’t seem to do anything in moderation.

In our Western, industrialized, competitive context, we swing from frenetic labor to “I’m going to go into major debt because I want that boat” without much thought. We are always striving, in work and in play, to keep up with…someone. Something. It’s rather ill-defined. We know for certain, however, that we are always and inevitably coming up short. Nothing is ever good enough. We are never good enough.

So onto the next deadline so we can get the next iPhone that we’ll have to make payments on by logging more hours.

Strangely, despite all the overtime and the missed vacation days, we lack discipline.

Really, we do. It’s not good that 40 hours a week is often understood to actually be 60, with little to no overtime pay. Or, if overtime is given, a tongue-lashing from the numbers guy comes along with it. “Yes, we need you to do this project that requires 87 hours of work but you have to get it done in 39.5. Kthanksbye.” There is no satisfaction accompanying a job well done, because the job is never done.

No discipline Monday-Friday equals no discipline on the weekends. Stay up too late, sleep too long, spend too much, drink too much, eat too much, shop too much. Hungover, emotionally or physically, we head back into the workweek, the ever-revolving hamster wheel of tasks and expectations.

On and on it goes.

Paul wrote:

…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

– Philippians 4:11b-12 (NKJV)

We don’t know how to do any of that. We don’t know how to be content in plenty. We don’t know how to be content in leanness. We don’t know how to be content, period.

Because we’re looking at the wrong things.

The big house isn’t going to silence the soul-gnawing sense of desperation. The corner office isn’t going to make the sacrifice of family and friends worthwhile. The string of letters on the parchment paper won’t bring peace. The money in the bank won’t achieve security.

Paul goes on:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

– 4:13 (NKJV)

We quote this verse out of context all the time. I know I have.

Paul is grateful, and in spite of periods of difficulty, he has learned to be content (v. 11). Note that he learned this! He did not rely on favorable circumstances for his joy and strength. He found these in a higher source: in Christ (v. 13).

Asbury Bible Commentary

Doing “all things” isn’t about achievement. It’s about facing whatever the day holds in the knowledge that Chris is always present. Does that mean we deny problems? No. Force ourselves to shun treats? Of course not. Put simply, “all things,” for the believer, are mere things. Seasons. Times. Moments that pass. Christ is the end-goal, the treasure.

Knowing this is the only way that we can be content, and out of that contentment arises the ability to set boundaries. I don’t have to do the work of three people. I can say “no.” I don’t have to buy this thing that I don’t have money for. I can enjoy what I already have. Understanding that Jesus is King and that we are His children means that we don’t have to strive. We don’t have to get caught in the rat race or possess all that is shiny.

Of course, we cannot attain this perspective on our own. We’re not amazing like that. The only way we can conclude that this life, this world is not all there is and that something else matters a whole lot more is through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have to ask for His eyes. We have to ask Him for faith.

So, yes, work hard. And treat yo self. Just remember, neither in the working nor the treating does contentment lie.

Find it in the arms of Jesus.

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Photo Credit: Kaylah Otto
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