Sabbath Series part 1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 1:1-2; 2:1-3)
Most of you who know me at all know that I love Texas. Don’t hold it against us Texans, it is bred into us. There is a great song called “Texas on My Mind” that begins like this –
I woke up this morning,
with Texas on my mind.
Thinking ‘bout my friends there,
and the girl I’d left behind.
That’s really the main thing. I think of Texas and I think of friends and family. I think about hog hunting with Layne and Lanny Mathews in the woods where we grew up. I think about lazy days wade fishing in the Corpus Christi Bay with Aaron Whitington and Roger Bennet. Or “surfing” off North Padre with Chris Dowell and Cody Wheeler. I think about playing paintball on the church’s undeveloped property and the time that Jamie Dahman nearly attacked Luke Francis’ cousin… I think about spending a whole afternoon drinking coffee and discussing CS Lewis with Matt Tapie and Nate Bostain at Café Brazil in Dallas. Or lunch with Tino Trejo at El Pulpo. I think about going to Elva’s with Bryan Sharp every day before going to visit folks in the hospital…and gaining 20 lbs in the process. I think about my first date with Rachel – a Wylie high school football game outside of Abilene (she didn’t even know it was a date.) In short, it’s the memories of wasting time that really stick out and make me really love that great state.
I really miss Dallas, and I often think about our friends there, but I also often mourn one of the great evils that sucking the life out of people in that area (and so many others like it) which is the need to hurry – the rush to produce. I think about the parents of kids who complain that their child actually has a whole afternoon each week with nothing planned – other than 3 or 4 hours of homework. Gasp – a whole afternoon! Every week!!! Those lazy kids!!!!
Stop. Pause. Think. Why do we feel this need to rush all the time? We believe the lie that says our worth is tied up in what we accomplish. What’s the first thing we ask people when we meet them? “What do you do?” Our identity is tied up in our paycheck. What we drive, where we live, our successes and conquests…
We read in Genesis that after 6 days of creating, God was through and he rested from his work. On this 7th day he ceased working, he ceased producing – the Creator God did not create on this day, God enjoyed what was created.
I don’t know what comes to your mind when you hear the word “Sabbath.” Perhaps there is a visceral response to what seems like old covenant legalism. Maybe to you Sabbath is going to church on Sunday…a simpler time when the movie theaters were closed and people respected God by not opening stores on the Lord’s Day. Perhaps the word is so foreign that it carries no connotation whatsoever. Or maybe it sounds like something too good to be true – a day every week for rest and enjoying life? Seriously? Every week? Isn’t that a bit excessive?
The truth is that the day does not find its origin in the Hebrew Law – the Law of Moses. It’s origin is found in the very act of creation. It is the holy pattern of work and rest. The Sabbath is a day for acknowledging the Lord. It is a day for worship. It is a day for rejoicing and playing. It is a day to enjoy the beauty of creation and the blessing of friends, family and food. It is a day to cease from labor and expectation to produce and prove our worth. It is a day to set aside worry and anxiety. It is a day to remember that we are not God…but we worship the one Who Is.
So why is the idea of Sabbath important? It is important because humans, made in the image of God, are called to remember their creator. It is important because without regular time to reflect we will forget. I think that’s why the 4th Commandment says to “remember the Sabbath” – that memory is vital to our existence in God. It was something already established; something the Law pointed people back too – something vital for their souls. A part of our existence that quickly becomes profane rather than holy unless it is intentionally remembered. The Sabbath is important because the world tries to force us into a different vision of reality – one that is based on productivity and expectation rather than being. We are judged by what we accomplish rather than by whom we belong to.
In short, the Sabbath is a day created to waste time with God and with loved ones. There is no pressure to accomplish tasks or finish projects. We are free to simply be a child of God. We are encouraged to find rest in God alone.
My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
– Ps 62:1-2
All too often when we talk about Sabbath, we talk about how we are free from that legalistic part of the Old Covenant. For sure the Sabbath played an important role in Israel’s covenant with God. We know that Paul chastised those who were trying to force legalistic observance of the Sabbath on followers of Jesus. And surely the legalistic observance of Sabbath is not something found in our covenant and call to Jesus. But we also know that even Jesus took time to rest. He would regularly leave the crowds in order to spend time in worship and rest. We need a day to rest and to cease. It is the act of ceasing that allows us to ground our whole week in God. By setting aside a day to remember that we are not God, we are more likely to remember that truth every day.
Even healthy diet plans recognize the need for sabbath. They urge you to take one meal a week and just enjoy. Don’t try to work the diet day in and day out without ever giving yourself a break – you can’t keep that pace up!!! But if you have even one meal a week that you can look forward to eating whatever you want, then you are more likely to stick to your convictions on the other days in anticipation of that celebratory meal.
We are called to rejoice in the Lord always. But we live in a world that constantly pulls us toward worry. There are deadlines and bill collectors and expectations every day. If we give ourselves one day a week to cease worrying about these things altogether then we are more able to resist the temptation to worry during the week. We may need a day where we don’t check our email. Or pay bills. Or clean the house.
Mostly we need a day each week to cease trying to be God. We need to remind ourselves that every single day the sun comes up without our help and it sets in the same manner. If we don’t answer our email, the wind still blows. If we don’t solve the problems, the moon stays in its orbit. If we don’t balance the check book, God is still God…and we are still not. I don’t know how many people this applies to, but I need a regular reminder that I’m not really that important. I am a part of God’s wonderful creation. He created me to play a special role. But it is just a role – a small role – in His creation. Stop. Pause. Cease. We are blessed by the gift of Sabbath and the gift of ceasing.
I challenge you. Set aside time this week. Maybe you already do – maybe you regularly do so on Sundays. Maybe your Sabbath will need to be on Tuesdays. It may begin at lunch on Wednesday or bedtime on Thursday. I’m not calling for any legalistic burden – but rather an acceptance of God’s offer of rest.
There is a passage that I quote quite frequently because I believe it is something we need to hear very desperately. I know that these words continue to call me toward something better.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matt 11:28-30
In preparing for this series I have turned to several resources. While I will not be making in text citations, the following books (in addition to numerous commentaries and of course the Biblical text) have been incredibly helpful in organizing my thoughts and I have on more than one occasion borrowed from their language or structure.
Lynn Baab, Sabbath Keeping ISBN-10: 0830832580
Marva J. Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly ISBN-10: 0802804578
Wayne Muller, Sabbath ISBN-10: 0553380117
Darryl Tippens, Pilgrim Heart ISBN-10: 0976779072