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?

America Ain’t the Promised Land but it’s the Land I Love: Why I Serve

Image courtesy of Michael Elliott at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Michael Elliott at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A lot of Christians seem to believe that America is the new Promised Land – that somehow the blessings and promises God gave Israel that are recorded in the Old Testament somehow have carried over to us. It’s not true, but I’ve run into that line of thinking a lot.

Israel was called as God’s people group – called to represent God to the world. Part of that calling was the promise of land and blessing. That promise is not for us because we are not part of Old Testament Israel. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul, a good Jew, declares that being part of God’s people is no longer about ethnicity but about faith.

I bring this up because many people in the United States seem to confuse faith and patriotism, as though they are interchangeable. If one is a patriot one must be a good Christian. If one is a Christian one must be a good patriot. Our military men and women almost take on demi-god like status on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and the 4th of July. On these special weekends many churches seem to forget what our real object of worship is supposed to be. Jesus gets put on the back burner for the American flag, patriotic songs, and pomp and circumstance (not all churches, I know, but some do).

In the Old Testament there was a mix between the nation and faith. In fact, when Joshua led the Army around Jericho the priests led the way!

The Lord said to Joshua, “Look, I have handed Jericho, its king, and its fighting men over to you. March around the city with all the men of warm circling the city one time. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry seven ram’s horn trumpets in front of the arc. But on the seventh day, march around the city seven times, while the priests blow the trumpets… (Joshua 6:2-4)

Chaplains lead the way!

But that’s not who God’s people are any more. We’re not a nation looking to take the land God has given us. We are a people of faith in Jesus. That faith is what brings us into community, not land or birthright. What I do as a Soldier is not because God has called America to be His nation. This is not His nation (any more than England, Russia, New Zealand, etc.), and the whole “If my people will turn…” is not a promise to Americans.

So why do I serve?

I have long felt a call to service and to ministry. I had considered the police department. I had considered being a military pilot. The idea of serving the community and/or country greatly appeals to me – to be part of something much bigger than myself, to contribute to the general welfare. But that would not allow me to carry out my calling to minister to people. But being in ministry wouldn’t allow me to fulfill my calling to serve.

So for me the Chaplaincy was a perfect fit. I get to exercise both aspects of my calling: to minister to people and to serve the nation. Not because this is God’s nation, but because I believe in the ideals of a democratic republic – because I affirm with Winston Churchill:

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

On this Veterans Day I want to say “Thank you!” to everyone who has served or currently serves in any element of the U.S. Armed Forces, Active, Reserve, and Guard. This country is what it is because of men and women like you.

And, while this nation is not blessed because of our special relationship to God, I think it’s a pretty great place – and I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else.

Happy Veterans Day! God bless!

veterans-day

Related Posts:
Patriotism Vs. Faith
The Decline of Christianity in the U.S. Army

Forbidden Love

Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Love can be wonderful thing. Except when we love the wrong people ~ when we love forbidden people. Ooh, taboo love. Forbidden romance. It’s so exciting! Well, not always exciting. For the couple it can sometimes be downright dangerous.

Sometimes parents frown on their children becoming romantically involved with people from a lower social class. I want to tell you a story today of forbidden love, of two opposed families. It’s like the story of Romeo and Juliet…but from the Bible. What, you didn’t think Shakespeare made up that story by himself, did you? It’s a timeless tale. Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Boy woos girl. Girl is swept off her feet. Girl’s family disapproves of boy. Girl’s family massacres boy’s family…. You know – the usual.

Of course, that’s the story that ever father of a girl likes to hear! Keep away from my daughter. When I first met my father-in-law he pulled me aside and told me, “I sleep with a knife above my head and a gun under the bed.”

The story is from the Old Testament. Dinah is the daughter of Jacob. Her mother is Leah. Leah wasn’t Jacob’s favorite wife, so Dinah probably wasn’t his favorite child. But she is part of Jacob’s household. Jacob’s household has been doing a lot of traveling lately. They’ve been in hiding from Esau because Jacob thought Esau was gonna kill him. But wouldn’t you know it, Jacob and Esau reconnect and there’s forgiveness and restoration. And now the family is ready to settle down in Canaan, the land of promise. After making camp Dinah decides to go out to visit with the women of the area. And then, as she’s walking along in the midst of the crowd, she’s seen by the prince. And the prince’s heart skips a beat. It like something right out of a musical.

Prince Shechem sees Dinah and before you know it, they become intimate. Shechem has received a lot of bad press in the past. Many people have accused him of raping Dinah. In fact, many English Bibles title this chapter, THE RAPE OF DINAH. But the subheadings and titles are not part of the original Bible, there were added in hundreds of years later to assist us in reading. There is nothing inspired about the titles or subheadings.

This is how the story goes: Shechem saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and humiliated her. The taking does not mean by force. It is symbolic language, and it is the same expression used to describe taking a husband or taking a wife. It is the same expression used later on in this story when Shechem and his father are trying to convince the Israelites to be part of the community and take wives for themselves. There is nothing violent necessarily implied. Understanding Hebrew and ancient near eastern culture puts it in a different perspective.

Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman was not perceived in romantic or spiritual terms, but in terms of its keeping the family and bloodline alive. The idea of sex being dirty or casual is out of the question. The importance of the individual lies in the continuation of the group, which depends on proper sexual intercourse—that is, proper use of sexual power. That sexual power is used to prevent intrusions that pollute the family that represent loss of strength. Keep it in the family. Keep the tribe strong. If you step outside what is socially permitted then you bring shame, dishonor, and humiliation upon the whole group.

By romantically linking with an outsider, Dinah was diluting the family bloodline and opening them up to weakness. This is her shame, her humiliation. It’s a similar situation as that found in Deuteronomy 22:28-29, where a man finds and takes an unbonded or unattached young woman and lies with her. There is no cry for help from the woman and no violence on the part of the man. There is voluntary sexual intercourse between two unbonded people, but with no prospect of bonding and obligation. This, too, does not qualify as rape. In fact, the man has touched the heart of the woman, as Shechem does to Dinah.

But there is no request for future bonding, and therefore, he has humiliated her. To erase the shame and establish bonding, the man is obligated to give the father of the young woman fifty pieces of silver as a bride gift, to marry her and never divorce her. Despite the fact that there is no rape, the sexual intercourse between these two people is shameful and we see that same expression about humiliation as we see in Dinah’s story. She has not represented the family the right way. This story doesn’t talk about a rape – it talks about two people who fall in love, but the girl’s family sees the union as dishonorable. This is about honor, pride, and family shame.

The storyteller tells us more about the romance:

Shechem’s soul cleaved unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl, and spoke to the heart of the girl. And Shechem spoke unto his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl as my wife.”

All of the expressions in this verse are terms of affection. They are terms of courtship and marriage. Where else do we find that expression, “to cleave” in the Old Testament? Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and CLEAVE to his wife.” Cleave means to be bonded to. And the last expression— “to speak to the heart of” — indicates both Shechem’s action and Dinah’s positive response. This isn’t about the violence of rape. This is about forbidden love and family pride. And Shechem wants to follow through and do things honorably, so he and his father go to Jacob to negotiate the bride price, the dowry, for Dinah. This is actually keeping in line with the law later given in Deuteronomy.

And Shechem and his father ask for the hand of Dinah and, with the marriage, a unification of the two tribes. When kings or princes take wives, it can be for political alliance and economic cooperation as well as mutual attraction and love, so it is a public affair. Hamor, Shechem’s father, puts his emphasis on ‘uniting’, which is spoken of in terms of mutual marriages that will create a bonding between the two groups, to the advantage of both parties. It’s very much like the arranged marriages in the Middle Ages between England, France, Germany, and Spain. King such-and-such gives his daughter to the son of king such-and-such and there is an alliance and general friendliness between the people groups. Shechem wants Dinah; his father is trying to make it a win-win for everyone. “Come, let’s let our children marry! Then we will be united as allies, you can give us your women to marry, you can take ours to marry, trade will increase, and all will benefit.” As for the bride price, the dowry, Shechem is willing to pay dearly, for he loves Dinah with every fiber of his being.

But Dinah’s brothers won’t stand for it. In their eyes, they have been wronged by this outsider. Their honor and pride have been damaged, and nothing would allow them to get over the dishonor. Their sense of injury is of injury to themselves, not Dinah. They don’t care about her as much as they do about themselves and the standing of their family. So they agree to let Dinah marry IF, and ONLY IF, all of the males of the tribe agree to be circumcised. Anything less would be a disgrace.

I would think that right there would be enough to make Shechem say, “I love the girl, but maybe I should look for someone new.” But he’s so taken with Dinah that he agrees. Not only does he agree, but he goes and sells the notion to all of the men in their tribe. This guy should be salesman of the year! SALESMANAnd three days later, while the men are still in pain, Dinah’s brothers go into town and kill every male and capture every woman and child AND make off with the livestock. And they got Dinah from Shechem’s house and brought her back home. It’s an even more tragic ending than Shakespeare could come up with for the Montagues and Capulets. Deceit, fraud, murder, thievery…where does it end?

This is where Jacob steps up to his sons and says, “What have you done?!? Your behavior has made me a stench to the people of this land!” And their only response is, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” But it is their words, their point of view, not the actions of Shechem, turn their sister into a prostitute. What they really mean is that their honor cannot be bought—which means that no restitution to Dinah herself is satisfactory. The injury is an injury to them and they seek revenge. By saying that Dinah has become like a harlot, the sons of Jacob show that they do not regard Dinah as having been raped. Instead, they are pointing to the fact that she has become a marginal figure by engaging in sexual activity outside her society and without the possibility of bonding, since the sons are unwilling to give their sister to an uncircumcised outsider. For them the relationship threatens the unity of the tribe. It is to this threat that the sons react.

Ironically, if there is a rape in this story, it is Simeon and Levi who ‘rape’ the Shechemites. It is their behavior that is violent and hostile, carried out for the purpose of exploitation. It creates the illusion of dominance, control and superiority, in order to silence their feelings of vulnerability and inferiority. What could have been a beautiful relationship, a loving relationship, is destroyed by honor and shame. It is destroyed by pride and lack of grace and forgiveness.

This story speaks so strongly across the years because the message remains true. What is good, what is lovely, is destroyed by pride. Destroyed by misplaced honor. Destroyed by placing personal agendas above other people. This happens today all the time. Think about the last time you were really offended. Think about who it was that offended you, and what they did that offended you. Know that being in relationships with people and organizations means that every once in a while you might get offended by something. It’s inevitable. Most of the time the offense is not intentional. Did Shechem mean to offend Dinah’s brothers? Heck no! He simply fell in love with a pretty girl. The question is this: How will you respond when that offense comes?

We could be like Dinah’s brothers. Nothing will assuage our anger! We can’t be calmed down! We’ve been wronged! That just isn’t right! Or we can look to see how Jesus handled offense.

Luke 17:3-4 ~ “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4″And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Or how about Matthew 18:21-22 ~ 21

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give up your coat. Jesus’ method of dealing with offense brings forgiveness and restoration. Dinah’s brother’s method of dealing with offense brings slaughter, bloodshed, and hurt. I think we can all agree that it’s easier said than done, forgiving and letting go of an offense. But too often we see people in the church dealing with offense in the wrong way. What? I can’t believe I’m being treated this way! This just isn’t right! I’ve been wronged! And we go on a destructive rampage. This isn’t the Christian method. It’s being Dinah’s brothers. Think again to some grievances you have with people or groups. Are you willing to turn the cheek, walk the mile, forgive another 70 times?

Or are you ready for blood?