Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sabbath scofflaws

Why do we need Sabbath?  In my first sermon on Sabbath (Feb 21) I mentioned 5 of the Transforming Center's 15 signs of a tired soul: irritability,  feeling pressured for time, emotional numbness, shortchanging important relationships, and isolation.  If we have these signs, then we probably have tired souls.  

Now let me turn that around.  Instead of asking why we need Sabbath, let me ask: Why do we have tired souls?  The answer: Because we don't keep Sabbath.

A lot of us have been "9 commandment Christians" for a long time.  Jesus said to the Pharisees that "the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath".  The Pharisees needed the second part of Jesus’ rebuke because they were making Sabbath-keeping burdensome for people who really wanted to follow God’s laws.  We evangelicals need the first part of Jesus’ rebuke, "The Sabbath was made for man”: Sabbath was given for our flourishing.  Really.  Yet this is the one commandment out of ten that we are most likely to disregard.  It's no wonder that there are so many worn-out, irritable, emotionally numb, isolated evangelicals.  We are constantly violating the Sabbath.  

Evangelicals tend to be workaholics.  We justify our existence through work and if we don’t feel a sense of worth, we work more and harder.  Another way of saying this is that we believe we are saved by work.  In a recent book, "The Radical Pursuit of Rest", John Koessler starts by breaking the connection between rest and work: we shouldn’t rest so that we can work, or work so that we can reward ourselves with rest.  His radical (but biblical) idea is that rest is an end in itself.  We are designed to enter into rest (Heb 4:3).

Jesus tells us that if we are truly resting our work will be easy: “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.  For people who are addicted to work and exhaustion as a way of finding worth, that makes no sense.  "Work is supposed to make me tired!  It’s not work if it doesn’t make me tired."  Jesus doesn’t say that he will get rid of work.  Work is a gift from God, given before the Fall.  The Message puts it this way: “Walk with me and work with’ll learn to live freely and lightly" (Matt 11:28-30).  

Jesus calls me not to work so that I will flourish, but to rest so that I will flourish.  How will I respond?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Is Jesus a tollbooth?

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

 Most people today (including evangelical Christians) would interpret this verse as saying that Jesus is the gateway to God.  It's as if Jesus is sitting in some sort of tollbooth that everyone must get past in order to get into "heaven".  

But Jesus is saying that he is much more than that and that the destination is much more than some place we might call "heaven".  The destination is a Person, the Father.  So Jesus is describing a relationship.  The "way" has something to do with how we should act, our lifestyle or ethical standards.  But we do these things because it's how we get to know our Father.  In a relationship, we try to do things that put us in a better position to know the other person, like re-arranging our calendar to spend time together.  The behaviors themselves have importance only as a way to get to know the other.

The "truth" means that Jesus knows us inside and out.  It also has to do with Jesus' reliability, that he is "true".  And it has to do with our being completely transparent with Jesus, just as he is with us.  In a relationship, being open and honest is the way to deepening the relationship.  We don't want to just know facts about the other person, we want to know her/him intimately.  

The "life" means that knowing Jesus motivates me, he moves me.  He is such a good and beautiful person that I will do whatever it takes to know him more because it is such an enriching and enjoyable experience.  When I engage in a favorite hobby, I become more intense, more energized.  When I talk about that thing I become more animated.  How much more so when I am with a person that I love or when I am talking about someone I find to be good and beautiful.  And having a relationship with Jesus and thus with the Father is even more so because he already loves me more than I could imagine (Rom 5:8).

I John 2:12-14 offers us 3 stages of spiritual maturity.  Children are concerned with what they "ought to do".  Young adults are cognitively developed enough to be able to understand truth.  Elders are those who know God deeply and have a depth of life that is beyond simply being moral or knowledgeable.  The physical powers of an elder may be waning but if s/he has connected with the source of all life, s/he will have a sparkle in their eyes and a zest for life that will find its fullest expression when they are living unfettered in the age to come, the Kingdom of God that will someday break through and transform this currently corrupted world. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

God and your calendar

Is God in your calendar?

Think back on a typical day: when did you set aside time for God?  Does he show up if you were to search your calendar?  Of course, we don’t normally enter daily routine items, like waking up, brushing our teeth, etc.  But until our time with God becomes as routine as brushing our teeth, maybe we do need to enter it so that our computer or smartphone or smartwatch can remind us to spend time with him.  

Many Christian groups through the years have ordered their day with times of prayer.  Matins or Lauds is the prayer time that starts the day.  Vespers closes the day.  These are some of the divine “offices”, which comes from the Latin word opus or “work”.  These times of prayer would help people to take time in their day to pay attention to God.  They are just as important as the work of farming or engineering because they help us see the meaning of what we are doing.  They help us become aware of how we fit into God’s purposes in the world. 

These times of prayer aren't supposed to be a spiritual checklist of tasks to be accomplished to get on God’s good side: “Morning prayer, check.  Evening prayer, check."  We are saved by grace, “not by works so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).  But they help us to grow as children of God, first by reminding us that we are God’s children, and then by creating space for us to be with our Father.  They help us live into the truth of our relationship with God.

So this coming year, put God in your calendar.  Believe me, he won't stand you up.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Love all

Before Thanksgiving a group of department stores ran an ad saying that, "the four-letter word that defines the season is L-O-V-E and not S-A-L-E".  They slipped in a message that they have everyday low prices, but I appreciate the fact that they purposely closed their stores on Thanksgiving Day instead of following the recent trend to start "Black Friday" sales on Thursday.

The Advent Conspiracy theme for the final Sunday of Advent is "love all".  Of course we love our families.  But instead of buying expensive gifts to prove our love, we are being challenged to show our love to those who are in need throughout the world.  I may not consider myself to be wealthy, but being a part of the middle class in the US means I have much more in material possessions than I need.  According to the Wall Street Journal online (Oct 13, 2015), one of the fastest growing industries in the US is self-storage: Americans have too much stuff.  I may think of myself as one of “the 99 percent” but If I have 2 cars, I am part of the "1 percent" relative to the rest of the world (93 percent of the world doesn’t own a car).

So it makes sense for Christians in the US to help alleviate poverty.  Richard Stearns (the president of World Vision) points out that the total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion.  Imagine what a tithe of that income could do!  In fact, just a little over 1 percent of that could alleviate extreme poverty worldwide.  The problem is that most American Christians don’t consider extreme poverty in the rest of the world to be our problem.  Giving by the American Church is down to about 2 percent, down from 3.3 percent in 1933… the height of the Great Depression.  And most of that giving is spent on ourselves.  Only 2 percent of the 2 percent is spent on the rest of the world.  Giving in general and giving to global efforts especially is counter-cultural.  The Advent Conspiracy is calling us to be counter-cultural.

But going counter-cultural has a cost.  The stores probably lost some money.  And I will have to invest some time to find some good organizations for my giving.  Some family members may be miffed that they didn’t get the expensive trinket they had put on their Christmas list. But let Santa worry about Christmas lists.  God’s call to the Church is to “love all”: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Good news

This Sunday is the "joy" Sunday of Advent.  The angels told the shepherds that they had "good news of great joy".  Good is relative.  Do we think the angels’ news was good?  And joy is relative, too.  How much joy we experience depends on how good we think the news is.  

In Rom 10:15 says, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news."  But what is good news?  A messenger's feet aren't generally thought of as beautiful, so their beauty really depends on how good we think the news is.  

What makes something good news to you?  Which of these links would you click to find out more: "Delicious holiday recipes", "Stay fit into your 70s", "Best bargains for your house", "Guaranteed career satisfaction."  How about "Tips on how to pray” or “Getting closer to God”?

In Rom 10 Paul also quotes Isaiah’s complaint, "Who has believed our message?" (Isaiah 53:1)  By the time Isaiah wrote this he was pretty frustrated.  He had answered God's call in Isaiah 6, but no one wanted to listen.  (God warned him about this in Isaiah 6:9-10.)  Apparently, the good news wasn't so good to the people that most needed to hear it.

Paul tells us the good news in Rom 10:13, "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  But that's not good news to those who don't think they need to be saved.  There are a lot of other things that we turn to for security, for belonging, for a sense of worth: money, possessions, abilities, knowledge, appearances, whatever.  When we feel stressed or worried it’s not our tendency to “call on the name of the Lord”.  And so true joy is in short supply these days.

"Who has believed our message?”  Good question.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Peace on earth

How do you change a society's consciousness about race?  That was the topic of conversation around our dinner table last night.

My kids offered various methods for changing the dominant social perception of young black men like Laquan MacDonald, who was shot 16 times in the back as he walked away from Chicago police officers.  The police officer who shot him said that he feared for his life.  Why is a young black man perceived as a threat?  To put the question a different way, why aren't all young white men who look like Dylan Roof suspected of being mass murderers capable of killing nine people at a prayer meeting?

I don't have any easy solutions to this problem and no one that I know is offering one.  But it's obvious that American society needs to put in whatever effort is needed to work on the problem.  I commend my fellow Covenant pastors, including Michelle Dodson, Shaun Robinson and Phil Jackson, who addressed over 200 people this past Monday on a rainy night in Chicago to call for justice and understanding.  (You can read about the prayer rally here).

Advent is about social justice.  Virtually all of the prophecies regarding the Messiah look forward to a just society where wrongs are righted.  Mary's song, the Magnificat that we said together this past Sunday, says that God "lifts up the humble" and "fills the hungry with good things."  Jesus declared to a packed synagogue that his mission was "to proclaim good news to the poor... to proclaim freedom for the prisoners... to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18).

Advent candles and calendars are appropriate for this season, but can draw too much attention to themselves rather than helping us to glimpse the greater glory of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brings.  He is the Prince of Peace, not merely for me as an individual, but for this world.  "Shalom" means that all relationships are made right again, including between leaders and the governed.  Let's declare ever more boldly and insistently, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace."

Monday, September 22, 2014


Jeremiah 6:16a tells us,
This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.

What does it mean to look at something?

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
“I have seen spring in these
Woods,” will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
The leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.

When we take the time to truly look, then we will likely be startled or awestruck. Why? Because then we will be able to see what God is doing. God is always active (John 5:17 “My Father is always at his work”), he is always going about the work of redemption, of re-creating the world. This is the dimension beyond the world that we live in, the dimension that we can see if, for a few moments, we can quit being preoccupied with our own busy-ness and notice God’s activity.

"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:19)