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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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New Testament

The Big 10: Chill Out, Man!

Thanks for joining us on our journey through God’s Big 10 – the ten commandments. We’ve got the first three commandments out of the way – let’s press on and tackle number four. This time we’re gonna hear God tell us, “Chill out, man!”cat-98359_1920 Let’s talk about what it means to rest and what it means to cease from activity.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Sabbath is a Hebrew word that simply means, “rest.” We’re told from the beginning that the context for our taking a rest is that it is the model given us when God created the world. He spends six days creating and rests on the seventh. That’s kind of funny – does God need a rest? Sometimes I get this funny picture of God sweaty and out of breath after spending 6 days working. I can imagine God saying,

“Hey, Gabriel, I just need to chillax for a second.”

We treat Sabbath like a mini-vacay. I’m not going to do anything! God told me to take a break! But that’s not what we’re talking about. God is not so weak that he needs to catch his breath. God is not so puny that he can’t go more than 6 days without a breather.

commandments-159649_1280Sabbath means ceasing from activity. It’s not about God being tired. It’s not about God needing a break. It’s about God having brought to completion all he set out to do, so he simply stops his activity. That is what Sabbath is – to pause, cease, and terminate your activity.

There are no other parallels with any other ancient culture. The idea of Sabbath rest is unique to God’s people. He tells us that it’s one of the ways that his people are set apart from everyone else. It’s not about kicking back and putting your feet up – it’s about stopping our work to focus on Him. It’s holy time.

Everything and everyone is supposed to stop. In the same way that God said, “I’ve done what I set out to do – this is good,” we’re supposed to step back from our activity and say, “God is good.” It’s not to catch up on sleep but to focus on God.

It’s easy to feel overloaded. Our schedules burden us. We are like a crazy little surge protector that is loaded to the max with plugs and wires. It’s a mess, about to start a fire. That’s what our lives are like without Sabbath. We become so overloaded. God asks, “Where do you make time for me? Where do I fit into your life? Let’s create a special place – a sacred space for you and me.”

You get all these days to do your work, but every seventh day humanity is supposed to unplug. We create special space to be with God. There are no other distractions. No one else gets that space. It’s his.

In the New Testament we get a little different picture of Sabbath. All God said in the Old Testament was to set apart the Sabbath – create the space. But there isn’t a whole lot of detail as to what it looks like. So God-fearing religious people set up rules and regulations about what it looks like. What can we do? Is it okay to save somebody’s life? Sure, we can do that. What about if my donkey falls into a hole? Well, if it’s within a certain radius of your home, sure, but if it’s outside the radius, no. What about lighting a fire in my home? No, that’s creative work – no making fires.

More and more I’ve seen that God has given us simple religion yet humanity comes along and mucks it up. Where God says something small, we turn it into a massive thing. Rigid observers of Sabbath law won’t even flip on a light switch on Sabbath. They bring in a gentile to do the work for them.

There’s a story in the New Testament where Jesus breaks Sabbath law by plucking grain to eat.

 23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. spike-143373_192024 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

It’s about the heart, not the letter of the law. Are we creating sacred space for God? Are we making room in our busy and hectic world to stop and focus on God? If you unplug everything this world is going to keep driving on. It doesn’t need me to keep turning. What are we REALLY losing if we unplug and say, “God, I’m giving this time to you”?

The New Testament does not give us Sabbath as a command to obey. Paul says, “Some people consider one day special…” but the principle of Sabbath still applies. Are we making sacred space for God? The principle of ceasing is still good. More rest means more productivity later on. More rest now means less stress-related problems later on.

There are physical benefits to Sabbath rest. God’s not trying to demand time because he doesn’t want us to do nothing else. He cares about us! More rest means a better, healthier us. Jesus was in the habit of unplugging and resting. Jesus took time by himself or with his disciples to get away to go rest. But it wasn’t about watching the game and having a cold one. Anyone can have a secular day off. Sabbath is about unplugging from the world so that you have that God-space.

But how do you build Sabbath time into your life? It starts with a conscious decision. We have to decide make that space. In our world we have a disease called “When I have time.” I’ll do that “when I have time.” I’d love to learn another language. I’d love to clean out the garage, sweetheart. I’d love to…

Pretty soon our lives are so cluttered that there is no time for anything! Is it any wonder that God tells us to take Sabbath rest? I’ll focus on God when I have time. God’s reply is, “Hey, dummy, I’ve built that time into the week for you.” So we cease all regular activity so we can unplug and focus on God. Spend the time in prayer. Put on a Christian cd and meditate. Go to worship services. Don’t worry about the world – it will keep spinning. If we let it, the world will keep driving us.

Get centered mentally and spiritually. It’s not about legalistically saying, “I can’t do XY&Z on Sunday.” It’s about finding sacred space. It’s about finding time to unplug from the world and plugging into God.

We will be happier. We will be healthier. We will see better homes, better families, and a better us. This week examine your schedule. Where can you find time to unplug from the regular world and make Sabbath space? It doesn’t matter what day or hour – we’re not going to be legalistic about it. But we need to learn to unplug from regular activity and make sacred space.

Questions for Reflection

  • What controls and drives my days and weeks?
  • When was the last time I tried to unplug in order to create sacred space?
  • Am I willing to drop everything on a regular basis to cease from activity and focus on God?

Anger and Forgiveness Part II: Steps Towards Forgiving

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday in Part I we talked about giving people the benefit of the doubt and looking beyond our initial emotional response to anger and offense. But sometimes people go beyond the benefit of the doubt and actually do something that causes legitimate pain. Take Joseph, for example… (GENESIS 37-45)

– Joseph is one of the youngest with 10 older half-brothers
– They plan to kill him, but the oldest convinces the others simply to throw Joseph in a pit
– They end up selling him to a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt
– Joseph becomes a slave to Potiphar but is a hard worker and trustworthy – soon Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of the entire estate
– Potiphar’s wife gets the hots for Joseph but he won’t betray his master’s trust or sin against God, so she has a temper tantrum and falsely accuses him of attempted rape
– Joseph goes to prison (no DNA evidence available to exonerate him) and while in prison

If there’s anyone who has reason to seek vengeance and hold on to resentment it would be Joseph. But forgiveness is the letting go of the need for vengeance and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment. It involves a willful decision to restructure thought life and cognitions regarding the offender and the offense.

Divine forgiveness and forgiveness between humans are central themes at the heart of biblical faith (Ps. 51:1-2; Matt. 6: 12-15).

GRACE-FILLED FORGIVENESS and the non-remembrance of offenses are scandalous, especially when extended to vile evildoers. We often feel a strong urge to reject forgiveness and non-remembrance towards bad people – those who really wound us deeply.

If I were Joseph I would probably have a serious grudge against the brothers who sold me away. Yet Joseph is the agent of God’s grace and kindness towards his brothers. They were to take a long time – and this is often the case even for us today – to appreciate and to fully receive the transforming loving-kindness of the Lord into the very depth of their beings. Joseph understood that beyond and above the foul schemings of his brothers, God was in control. It is the Lord himself that gives and reveals the ultimate and true meaning to history.

To forgive is to offer mercy to someone who has acted unjustly.

Grace in the Bible can also mean “favor” as in “find favor in his eyes” – the word occurs 101 times in Paul’s letters alone… In the Bible, forgiveness is primarily the act of God by which he graciously takes away the obstacles or barriers which separate man from His presence.

The New Testament word for forgiveness means “to send away.” Forgiveness does not excuse or minimize the hurtfulness of the other person’s act. Rather, it says, “Yes, you did a hurtful things to me. You did wrong.” But forgiveness is then acting mercifully and saying, “I choose not to hold that against you. I am sending away that grievance.”

We often have difficulties in forgiving others. Sometimes we think we have forgiven when we really haven’t. Sometimes we think that, to forgive, we must forget and act as if the hurt never happened. Offenses are not forgotten, but when forgiven they should not be brought up again. Other times we think we can forgive only after the person has suffered or made restitution. Revenge requires suffering and restitution, not forgiveness.

Letting go of the right for revenge has real benefits. It can lower blood pressure, reduce free-floating hostility associated with elevated cardiovascular problems, help you feel less stressed, fearful or depressed, and restore you spiritually to a better relationship with the Lord. When the Bible talks about forgiveness it’s not just about restoring relationships between people, it’s not just about modeling God’s behavior (the One who forgave us even when we didn’t deserve it) – it’s also about our OWN well-being.

Whatever you’ve been holding on to – it’s time to let it go. It’s time to let go of the need for vengeance and justice. It’s time to choose not to hold things against people, even if you’ve been wounded deeply.

So how can you start? First, ask God to remove the anger associated with the hurt. He can bring healing and forgiveness even when you don’t think it’s possible. Keep talking to God about it. Then there are three practical things you can do to start the process of letting go and forgiving people:

1) Write a hurting letter, listing how the person hurt you and how the hurts affected you – Read the letter to an empty chair where you cannot be overheard
2) Write a forgiveness letter – Read that letter to an empty chair
3) Destroy both letters as a symbol of releasing you pain and anger

Hate, anger, and unforgiveness will eat us up from the inside out if we don’t release it. It sucks the joy out of life.

It’s time to live a joy-filled life, and that means walking in forgiveness.

Related Posts:
Anger and Forgiveness Part I: Learning to Give the Benefit of the Doubt
Learning How to Forgive

Losing Religious Freedom

Providing Spiritual Care to ALL Soldiers...
Military Chaplains – Providing Spiritual Care to ALL Soldiers…

***As always, I speak for myself. I represent no government or military organization.***

This morning I woke up to this disturbing news article about a Chaplain’s Assistant facing reprimand for voicing her personal beliefs on her personal Facebook page. Please note that the Chaplain’s Assistant posted her personal beliefs on her personal Facebook page. She was not utilizing government time or equipment to push her faith on someone else. She stated her opinion regarding biblical values. Her Commander threatened her with a reduction in rank and pay if she did not remove the post.

I will be perfectly upfront and admit that the only thing I know about the incident is what was reported in the story. You know as much (if not more) than I do. If the story is true then we are looking at an incredible injustice. So please let me climb up on my soapbox for a few minutes.

There are two sides to this ugly coin:

First, to those who push an agenda of equality and rights and social justice, to those who reported the Chaplain’s Assistant for creating a “hostile and antagonistic work environment” I say this: freedom and equality is a two-way street. You cannot cry out for the freedom to live and speak as you choose and then silence those who disagree with you. It seems as though any vocalizing of disagreement with you is considered hateful and hostile. Is it not possible to disagree without being hateful and hostile?

You have become the oppressor when you try to silence your opposition. If you really believed in the freedom you claim you desire then, as much as you have the ability to live and speak the way you please, those who dissent have that same ability to live and speak as they please. As Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, notes: “Just because a person wears a uniform does not mean they give up their religious liberties and their ability to speak about matters of faith.”

Freedom is a two-way street.

Second, to those who would side with the Chaplain’s Assistant, I have a word for you from the New Testament book of 1 Peter 3:14-18 ~

“Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

Honestly, I’m tired of militant Evangelicals demanding this and that, screaming about injustice and trying to force our way on society. From my reading, the Bible is pretty clear that the world ultimately is not on our side. We belong to God. We do not belong to this world. Peter’s church suffered a lot of persecution at the hand of unbelievers. We should not be surprised when this world turns against us.

Let’s face it, Western Christianity has lived a charmed life for the last 1700 years. We’ve become so comfortable that we’ve forgotten that we’re temporary residents here – we don’t belong here permanently. Peter’s words ring true today just as they ever did: take it all with gentleness and respect. We become pushy when we feel we’re owed something. Instead, we ought to accept it as a natural result of a broken world.

As much as possible I believe those of us in a democratic republic need to keep working towards real equality. That means that everyone gets a voice, even if we disagree with each other. Disagreement isn’t hate – it’s just disagreement. At the same time, don’t forget that we’re just passing through. Things will get worse for Christianity as the years progress (I think history bears this out). It doesn’t matter. Even when we suffer, don’t fear. Don’t be frightened. We still serve Jesus, and that’s our end – eternity with him.

The situation in this news piece really gets under my skin (as a Christian and as an Army Reserve Chaplain). If it is true (as I said, I only know what is reported in the story), I think the Commander was out of line and wrong to reprimand and threaten the Airman. I am disheartened to think that religious freedom is taking a backseat to a pseudo-tolerance (tolerance when you agree with me, I’ll silence you if you disagree with me). But still, Jesus reigns over all. One day all the wrongs of this world will be made right. Until then we persevere with grace, dignity, gentleness, and respect – no matter what comes our way.

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

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