Sabbath: The Sacred Space

Anna had just finished cross-country practice when she opened the passenger side door of my car and sat in the seat next to me.

After a few minutes of chitchat with my oldest daughter, she asked a very direct, yet inquisitive question.

“Dad, why do certain religions have a day when they don’t work or do anything?”

It was a fantastic question. And just the kind of question I love to answer.

I explained to Anna that the Sabbath was a day of rest given to mankind at the very beginning of creation. It was a day in which all work activity was to cease so that people could rest, rejuvenate, and give thanks to God.

I then further explained that Sabbath was central to the very heartbeat of Judaism, as God instructed them through His law to abstain from any activity that constituted work. Sabbath was, not just true for His people, but also the animals and the land. Animals were to be given a day of rest each week and the land a year of rest for every six it is worked.

As I explained Sabbath to Anna, and how important it is to our well being (mentally, physically, spiritually, relationally, and communally), I began to think about my childhood and how every business in our small town stayed closed every single Sunday. And as I thought back to that time it made me so profoundly sad. It was a sad realization that there had been something so simple and so life-giving built into our culture, given for our benefit, rooted in the very foundation of creation, and we lost it… we walked away from it. And there was not even as much as a whimper when we lost it.

Maybe because we lost it so slowly. Maybe because it started as one store and then another and then another. Maybe it happened so subtly that our pace didn’t really change and we really never recognized what was truly being lost. Maybe if we would have lost it suddenly then we would have realized the magnitude of what we were giving up.

It wasn’t just stores and businesses.  It was us.  Individuals.

We were walking away from Sabbath as something that was optional, even a little archaic.

It was insignificant… of little consequence.  If we lost it… well… we wouldn’t be missing anything.

But Sabbath was a fortress wall behind which we could retreat at least once a week to find our breath and maintain our rhythm. Behind the towering walls of Sabbath we found respite, relief, and peace and even regained our sanity because it was the only thing strong and sturdy enough to withstand the unrelenting assault of busyness, 60-hour work weeks, and capitalistic greed.

But here we are now as wayfarers and travelers, with not even as much as a faint memory of where we used to be. Another generation, and the generation after that, has come along after us and has been introduced into a world, and a culture, that does not stop, that does not rest, that does not take time to breathe, and does not understand our desperate need for sacred space.

The pace at which we are moving is increasing without any evidence of slowing down.

The amount of information coming at us at any one moment is doubling and tripling in the wrong direction.

The degree to which we are connected to technology only promises to make us more connected and more connected… not less.

And to be honest… it feels like suffocation or drowning or losing control or all of them at the same time.

But to many, including Anna, I am fearful that this feeling is shockingly normal… because they have not known any other way.

And it is evident.

In our anxiety.

In our stress.

In our mania.

There is no denying that we are paying for it heavily with our minds, bodies, and souls.

And the thing is… the forces keep coming and they continue to increase and they keep taking more and taking more.

It is subtle but incremental… and completely overwhelming.

Matthew Sleeth, in his eye-opening (and highly recommended) book 24/6, writes:

We cannot turn back the hands of time. Our 24/7 world is not going to change. Life will only get more intense. New communication tools, nanotechnology, and human engineering will increase the number of tasks an individual can do simultaneously. We will look back with nostalgia at the 24/7 world once these “advances” make 48/7 a reality. If we wish to have a weekly day of rest, it will no longer happen as a societal default. It will happen only as a result of conscious choice. All we need to begin is to “remember,” as the Fourth Commandment tells us. We must remember the why and the how of a day of rest.

He is right. We cannot depend on our societies, our governments, our businesses to make the right choices or create sacred space for us. Once we abandoned the sacred space of Sabbath, there is nothing left but empty promises that will never give us what we keep hoping to attain- a better life.

The fortress of Sabbath still stands. It is still there. It hasn’t fallen or been destroyed. We just left it. The doors are still open to enter back into a Sabbath’s Day rest… to stop the madness… to stop the cycle… to stop the work… to escape the forces that are overwhelming us and imprisoning us.

The Sabbath doors are open and beckoning us to come back and take a deep breath and spend time with family and play with our kids at the playground and take a walk in the evening while watching the sunset and enjoy a meal with our friends… and discover what we have really wanted all along (but maybe never even known it)- life in it’s fullness.

Sabbath is calling us back.

I am not much on New Year’s resolutions… but Sabbath would be worth pursuing in the new year.

Have a happy new year!

brandon

Rediscovering the Word Evangelical

There is a beautiful word… an elegant descriptor… that has been maligned, tarnished, lampooned, distorted, and completely misunderstood. It is a name many have abandoned for all of it’s negative connotations and ugly stereotypes. But this bruised and battered identifier… this lowly mark tossed carelessly to the side by a cynical generation… is finally being rediscovered, reclaimed, renewed, and washed clean by those hungry to wear it and hold it high for the world to see clearly.

The word is Evangelical.

And it is beautiful because at it’s very heart, it’s very core, it simply describes anyone who proclaims the Good News. But it seems that many have skewed the Good News and given the name Evangelical a bad rap by proclaiming messages that don’t seem so good… that make people feel worse on the inside and not so hopeful that there is an alternative to this confusing, messed up world.

As an Evangelical, as a proud proclaimer of the Good News, I want to share with you the Good News of the Kingdom of God… and the reason why I will continue to wear the name and preach the message until the day I die.

The Good News is that there is an alternative. This is another way. There is a reason to have hope.

The great alternative to this world, that Jesus preached about and was preoccupied with establishing, operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. The Good News that Jesus announced was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world, or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them or preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political system or governmental system. And, he was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where he would rule from the top-down.

The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than those of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen, because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.

When the world hits you, do not retaliate, but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. And, don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.

When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world is ready to cast the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving community.

When the world lords over you with mighty power and authority, be one who is humble and comes from the bottom-up to serve everyone. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.

When the world fights and wars, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.

That is the Good News of the Kingdom of God! That is what it means to be a true, genuine, authentic Evangelical. That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs to discover. That is the pearl of great value that we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ… of every Evangelical… in the vineyard of the world!

The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!! It is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. The Kingdom of God looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems, because they will all pass away one day.

That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye for anyone to see or to visibly discover. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and continues to spread from person to person all throughout the world like a mustard seed in a field or yeast in dough. It breaks into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do.

That is what it means to be an Evangelical. That is why I wear the name with honor and will hold the banner high. It is to Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Kingdom that I pledge my allegiance and give my life.

solitude and silence…

I sat down in front of the computer and put the first slide on the screen. Plainly and directly it read, “Please take a seat and remain quiet.” Amidst the conversations and music on that Sunday I heard someone say after seeing the instruction on the screen, “Yeah, good luck with that one.” But as the music faded and the conversations hushed to less than a whisper, everyone slowly began to take their seats as the room became completely silent. The room had settled into silence by a simple instruction on the screen, but the participants had no idea why they were being silenced. Even more, they did not realize that we were going to sit together in complete silence over the next forty-five minutes while I taught just using words on the screen about the importance of the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence. I believe it took us experiencing it before we realized how much we needed it.

But let me be very clear at the outset. The practice of the spiritual disciplines does not have anything to do with earning your salvation. The disciplines are simply a means through which the Christian learns and then teaches his or her body to become subject to the Holy Spirit. It is the “beating our bodies into submission” that we learn to become less, so that the Spirit may become more in our lives. The disciplines are the means through which we enter into active discipleship daily. But many of us have just not taken the time to consider how desperately we really need discipline in our spiritual lives.

It is an understatement to say that our lives are full of chaos. We do not take the time to stop and realize how dependent and addicted we are to the noise and the rush around us. Every minute of the day is full noise and busyness. It is the television, music, conversation, kids, and incessant chatter. When we finally come up for air we gasp, “God, where are you? This hardly feels like the abundant life you promised. Where is the peace?” We don’t stop to think how our minds have become so conditioned to the three second snippet or the fast paced motion of life. It is no wonder we are so anxious, impatient, discontented, addicted, and medicated. My God, where is the peace?

Think about how this affects us. We do not stop to listen to others. We are constantly thinking about what we are going to say next or do later or the next thing on our schedules. We are unable to concentrate and sit in silence and just listen. We have to speak. We have to turn up the volume. Is it not true that we live lives that make it seemingly unable to quiet those things around us and those things in our heads? We are unable to just sit still and breathe, contemplate, find peace, and hear God.

In solitude and silence, we intentionally remove ourselves from everything and everyone for a period of time. We cut ourselves off from everything we have become dependent upon or addicted to…standing still and alone with God. Solitude and silence strips away everything that we have filled ourselves with and leaves the infinite void of our soul wide open and exposed…preventing everything but God to fill us. In solitude and silence we realize that there is no thing or no one to trust in but God alone, and this is an excellent beginning point for all of us. It is in this place that we are able to see ourselves more clearly because there is nothing left for us to hide behind. In solitude and silence there is introspection and self-examination. We metaphorically come out from behind the bushes and trees and finally stand naked before God…exposed. We are left with nothing but God…and God alone.

Being able to experience the full presence of God uninterrupted and in the quiet is the beginning point of experiencing real and unconditional love. It is in this place that we begin to understand and experience peace and contentment. It is here that we take a first step toward life to the fullest. When we teach and train our bodies to be still and quiet and fully present with God, we can enter back into our social lives with a new found peace, contentment, and dependence…not on those things that we were previously dependent upon and addicted to…but on God alone.

Do yourself a favor…take time each day and each week to cut yourself off and find retreat with God alone. Be quiet and just listen to what God is telling you and what God is revealing to you. Make this a normal part of your spiritual life and you will begin to experience how peace and contentment find their way into every situation and circumstance of your life.

brandon