sabbath

Sabbath. We don’t use that word very often, and more times than not we probably clump it in Christianese verbiage that most outside of the church don’t understand. We are bad about that verbiage. We desperately need to communicate the Gospel in a common vernacular.

Sabbath: divinely set apart for rest and worship.

Technically observed as Sundays for Christians and Saturdays for Jewish folks, but that’s assuming God really cares what day of the week you take actual time to just be.

When I was in church ministry, Sundays are never a day for Sabbath…only work, so typically ministry staff that work on Sundays take a different day off. My Sabbath day was Thursday, and I had my own version of rest and worship. Since it wasn’t a ‘normal’ day to gather as a group of believers, there wasn’t any corporate worship in my day. There was worship in community, which is just as sacred. I didn’t have meetings that day. I didn’t set an alarm to wake up. Sometimes I’d go for a swim, and those were incredible times of prayer…lap after lap of chatting with my Jesus. Sometimes I would find a quiet Panera corner and dig into the Bible. God would show up in those moments at Panera, and I would learn things that I wouldn’t normally learn if I hadn’t actually taken the time to grow and be present. Honestly, I had to work hard at keeping that day set apart. Life likes to creep in and take over. If I didn’t work hard at keeping it sacred, and if I didn’t actually block it off on my calendar and commit to keeping it unplanned…it would have been full and I would have been more likely to just go through the motions instead of simply resting in him, however it materialized, in those days.

For some, Sabbath can become going through the motions of what it should look like as a socially labeled Christian with all of the social assumptions: do a quiet time, disciplined prayer, go to church – don’t forget to dress nice and modest as well as act as you are supposed to in church, church council meeting, sing in the choir and volunteer somewhere.

“Quit your worship charades. I cannot stand your trivial religious games; monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings – meetings, meetings, meetings – I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evil doings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.” [Isaiah 1:13-17, MSG]

Strong words…blatant words, I think it is why I like The Message Bible version sometimes. It cuts straight through the bullshit. When believers find themselves going to church because they are ‘supposed to go to church,’ they start walking a very grey line between going through the motions and honoring God through worship. God was pissed at the Israelites, because they were going through the motions of religion and didn’t want to connect with him. They didn’t need him. They were giving sacrifices for their sin as a show, and didn’t care about forgiveness. They were ignoring the things God cared about, and it angered him that they were not willing to ‘Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.’

If you are going to church on a Sunday morning only to be seen, and not seek to encounter the heart of God for you and this world…then what is the point? If you are taking communion because everyone else is going to the front and not coming clean with God…what is the point? If you are going to small group to check that off your Christian list for the week, not for community and make yourself Gospel literate…what is the point? If you are joining the mission trip simply because your friends are going and you want to take photos to show people on social media the good you do in the world, because you are a good Christian…what is the point? If you are going to the homeless shelter to serve food to appease your guilt of your abundance…what is the point?

It comes down to your motives. Who are you looking to please when you participate in the life of the church? Are your motives pure? Is it all in expectation? Or are you looking to impress someone with your holiness and righteousness, but spent an hour yelling at your family before you came to church or small group?

Sabbath is not a particular day. Sabbath is not for ‘religion.’

Sabbath is for your relationship with the one who reigns over the universe, and has love so intense for you he sent his son as the ultimate sacrifice. Sabbath is for you to take a breath. God commanded Sabbath because he didn’t create us to do EVERYTHING. He knows we need our connection to him. He knows we need rest.

God’s heart for you is to be whole in him, and that includes a day set apart to seek him and take a deep breath, because for the other days of the week God is very serious about, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” [Isaiah 1:17, NIV]

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witness

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [Acts 1:8]

Beyond the fact that this is one of my absolute favorite verses, and there are plenty of people that are tired of hearing about it, God tends to reveal different focuses through the words at different times. Being a witness and having a witness are two totally different things. One is what Jesus calls us to be. The other is how our actions are perceived by others.

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he hung out with prostitutes?

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he went to dinner with a tax collector?

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he touched lepers?

How were Jesus’ actions perceived when he told a murderer he would see him in Paradise?

This is why the Pharisees had such a problem with Jesus. His actions went against their ‘rules,’ but what they didn’t understand is that the rules were his to break since the Pharisees had morphed them into something that was never intended.

Christians get held to a higher standard, and that frustrates me, simply because we are the ones that know the cost of our sin and live as forgiven believers of the God who reigns over the universe. Just because I choose to be a believer, does not make me less human. It means I am acknowledging who I am as a human, and struggling through the sin that comes so naturally. I cannot stop sinning. That is unrealistic. It also does not make me a hypocrite. It makes me real, and not a believer who feels they have to hide what non-believers would term as questionable behavior for a righteous person. I am not righteous, unless you are saying I respond to injustice…then yes, yes I am. I answer to God alone, which means I rest in his mercy and grace.

Believers should be the most real people living in this world.

We should be the ones that are an outward example of real grace. In our own lives, as well as giving that grace to others in radical ways.

We should be what others look at and say, ‘Maybe there is something to the whole God thing. Maybe he is real. Maybe life could be freeing with God.’ So that God can have that conversation with them, because their salvation is not dependent on us. It is dependent on the truth of the Gospel. I pray you hear that, because we need to get out of the way of God doing what God does. Takes the pressure off, right? Credit for salvation never belongs in the hands of a human. God gets the glory…every time.

I was once heading out with a mission team that was a mix of people who find themselves in a pew on Sunday morning, people who would never set foot in church and others who used to but don’t anymore. I love it when God throws those mixes together, because you never know what God is going to do among those people and what transformation will happen while serving.

As we were preparing to leave, I was carrying a heavy box and dropped it on my toe and said, ‘Ah, shit!’

One of the other team members was right next to me, and looked over startled. I apologized, shrugged and said, ‘Sometimes things fly out of my mouth.’

The team member looked at me and replied, ‘I was nervous about hanging out with church people this weekend. We are going to get along just fine.’

It started a great friendship. It also started a new commitment to church in that team members’ life.

All because I am comfortable in the grace I received from a Savior that paid the ultimate price for me, and God breaks through walls that have been built for years in those moments. As well as using the realness we are comfortable with in our relationship with God.

I saw a physical wall fall down between that team member and the rest of the team that day. This example has come up a lot through story telling in my missional community. So much so that most of us like the idea of an ‘F-Bomb Ministry.’ I know. Scandalous. Take a breath for a second, and realize this is a solid idea to reach out to people who believe that ‘Christians’ are too good to associate with ‘sinners.’ We are ALL sinners, folks. When we all step back and realized this, God’s glory is going to burst through a redeemed people.

I have a filter, and sometimes it is looser than other times. But the reality is there are a plethora of people in this world that hold Christians to a higher standard, because Christians have chosen to fake righteousness. Their righteousness isn’t real. It’s just hiding what they think showing others will tarnish how Jesus is revealed. But consider how Jesus lived. His reputation was awful based on the people he hung out with…but while he was with them the Kingdom of God was evident and a Savior was revealed. The Holy Spirit flowed not only on them, but THROUGH them.

The Pharisees were righteous…and look what their beliefs did to not only the believers at the time in martyring them, but in hanging Jesus to a tree.

I’m not interested in being fake, and I’m certainly not interested in tarnishing Jesus. Some would argue my inability to filter all cuss words out of my vocabulary is an awful habit for a believer. Others would argue that since I have a penchant for vodka I cannot possibly be able to serve as a witness for Jesus.

To that I call bullshit.

I respect what God is saying in the lives of others, and I adapt my behavior to show respect to those believers. We are all on a journey with God, and for all I know what he is telling them is what God could be convicting me of tomorrow. However, my journey with God has led me to be comfortable with who he has created me to be and that comfort manifests in all areas of my life. What defines me is his love for me, my love for him and how he has called me to be a witness to what he has done in my life throughout the world.

I mess up. I make mistakes. I hurt people I don’t intend to hurt. But at the end of the day, I am embraced by the loving God who unconditionally covers me with love and grace. The God who loves my quirks. The God who, I imagine, laughs when I do stupid things. The God who smiles when I am holding a kid who needs to be held. The God who knows I will go where he sends me. The God who knows when my filter will be slammed in place…and when it won’t.

Don’t take this post as reinforcement to sin blatantly and outlandishly, I fully recognize there are boundaries. But do take this post as a reminder to talk with God about the parts of you that are hidden and the parts of you that are not. Jesus has put a calling on your life to be his witness, and he is revealed through all of you, because he has redeemed you wholly…not in pieces. And that is good news for a sinful world that needs a lot more witnesses to what Jesus has done in the lives of his people ‘in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’