Are you always working? What does that say about your God?

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Ezekiel 20:12 And I gave them my Sabbath days of rest as a sign between them and me. It was to remind them that I am the LORD, who had set them apart to be holy.

Last week, as August turned into September, we read God’s words to the Hebrew captives in Babylonia. For the first time, I saw the irony: teaching about Sabbath rest right before the Labor Day weekend.

Here’s a question for you: How would you describe Americans? What 3 adjectives would you use?

If you mention – workaholics, then we’re on the same wave-length. Americans BRAG about working long hours. It’s a virtue to be trumpeted, a boy scout merit badge to be admired by others. In culture at large and IN the church! How did this backward way of viewing life and organizing our seasons come about?

It certainly wasn’t the goal of government, which over decades enacted saner labor laws. NOR did technological innovators foresee work slavery as an unintended consequence. The 40-hour work week and inventions for both home and shop were meant to give us leisure. This slower pace would provide more time to connect and enjoy family, friends and neighbors. Evenings and weekends were margin we needed to rest and re-create. A time to STOP, look upward to God and outward to people. Yet culture did little to change our views of work and rest.Yet culture did little to change our views of work and rest. With the ‘freed up time’ we just did more stuff, more busy-ness.

What about Christians, those in the church? We’re no different than pagan culture. American seminaries even in the early part of the 20th century began straying from taking God’s Word as true, good and authoritative. Evangelical Christians today look, by and large, indistinguishable from their unbelieving colleagues.

Results? Pure insanity. ‘I’m so busy‘ has become a badge of honor.

Let’s look at the time of our agricultural and biblical ancestors, the Hebrews. When God gave His Law to Moses and the redeemed former ‘slaves’, everyone worked 7 days a week. Being commanded to keep the Sabbath would have been a crazy idea. Especially during the different harvest seasons. Unfavorable weather and natural enemies such as blight or pests were feared.

Trusting God enough to ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it holy’ proved impossible to obey. Generations as well as current cultural norms taught that your crops and your livestock were your financial security.

Like us today, it was easier to live by sight than by faith in the unseen God.

God’s 4th commandment and call to rest (He knows what our bodies need!) one day out of seven along with the holy days set aside to worship God cost the Hebrews a lot. Obeying them meant living by faith in the God who had covenanted with them and who promised to provide. They had to walk by faith and NOT by sight. They had to rely on God and NOT on what they and others had done for hundreds of years (i.e. use common sense) as Proverbs 3:5 commands:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

In our assigned reading this week, we read the LORD’s explanation to His people through the prophet Ezekiel. God patiently pointed out two purposes for His good gift of the Sabbath:

  • to remind them that the One they were called to trust at all times, especially on those Sabbaths that fell on sunny, dry days right in the middle of a harvest was the One who created the universe. He had covenanted to take care of them. In other words, He was ABLE and GOOD.
  • to remind them that they had been INTENTIONALLY separated and made different from their pagan neighbors…..they belonged to the LORD for HIS purposes, which were larger than their immediate need to get the harvest in before the weather changed.

So, back to the stereotypical workaholic American. What new thought did the Holy Spirit give me when I arrived at Ezekiel 20:12? Just this:

When we continue to work longer than we HAVE to, to get our work done, then we are acting like pagans, like those who have NO living God to depend on .

The workaholic Christian, whether a mom at home with kids or dad at work in an office or two breadwinners managing both work and kids – they broadcast to their watching neighbors/co-workers that ALL depends on THEIR efforts.

I know. Because I used to be that kind of teacher, one who believed IT was all up to me. Over the years, as the Lord pried my fingers off of ‘my free time’ on weekends to do lesson plans, He surprised me by showing me ways to be more effective with the time DURING the school week. Sundays DID evolve into days with more rest.

And by grace He has continued to deepen my trust in Him, to accomplish each day only what is ordained. I’m able to stop work and leave the undone things to His holy keeping for the morrow.

As I have pondered this reminder about the seriousness of Sabbath keeping, I’ve been asking myself: What does Sabbath look like for New Testament Christians? Here are my thoughts:

  • Are we called to live the entire Sabbath day (24 hours) differently from the other 6 days?
  • Alternatively, is it possible to have Sabbath rest 1/7th of each day, during the waking hours? What would that look like? Given that I fence off 8 hours a night for sleep, what is 1/7 of the remaining 16 hours? (2.3 hours a day.) So, what would qualify as Sabbath rest for those 2.3 hours or 2 hours and 17 minutes? (thus, is birthed a legalist Sabbath worshipper……)
  • OR…..is Sabbath rest for Christians more a posture, a heart leaning? Recall Paul’s guidance in 2 Cor 9:6-7 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Let’s look back at the text in Ezekiel. God gave the people the Sabbath to REMIND them of two facts: Who He is and Who THEY are.

Thinking through work and rest and discussing it with Mike yesterday on our Saturday hike, (thank you, Sweetheart, for pointing out the danger of falling into legalism!), leads me to place this question in the category of issues best left up to the individual conscience, as informed by God’s Word.

But working more than is necessary for an honest day’s labor does not build our case for the Good News of a kind Father who provides what we need, including rest.

As you enjoy your Monday holy-day, leave a few minutes to sit outside, soaking in beauty and maybe meditate on tangible ways you could implement to show the world something True, Beautiful and Good about our God.

Why do they hate that I love Jesus’ words?

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I live my days partially immersed in the Spanish-speaking world. Desiring to become proficient in the language, I spend 3 hours most days listening to podcasts, reading my Bible and novels, watching news in Spanish on YouTube and speaking with local Spanish-speaking natives. During the past two years I have come to understand more about the lives of many immigrants in our country.  Our pastor’s sermon yesterday morning caused me to see a similarity between ‘outsiders’ seeking a new home in America and those of us who are Christian, who are also ‘others’ and temporary residents in this world.

Joe’s text was Ezra 4. Returning Jews from 70 years of Babylonian exile had laid the foundation to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But the pluralistic, syncretistic locals did not like these new developments.

What did they do? First, they offered to help out with the reconstruction, hoping to redirect it to their ends. Rebuffed and rejected, they then turned their energies into “discouraging the people of Judah and making them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans (during) the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia down to the reign of Darius king of Persia(Ezra 4: 4-5). That’s a LONG time.  Years of persecution, harassment and hatred.  In a word – afflictions meant to derail the Lord’s work.

With a change in leadership in Persia, these persistent enemies of the Jews then wrote flagrant lies about the returnees convincing the King Artaxerxes to mandate a halt to all building in Jerusalem.

Joe used this section of God’s word to emphasize that Christians, those who love Jesus and follow him, will ALWAYS be hated and persecuted.

Why? Because we actually believe what Jesus says, what the Bible teaches, like:

  • There is only one way to be saved from hell and eternal separation from God – through Jesus.
  • There is only one true and living God, the God of the Bible.
  • Sexual unions other than what the Bible teaches are sinful. (Marriage between one man and one woman for life)
  • Complementarian roles for men and women are God’s plan for mankind.
  • Humans are created male and female.

Just to name a few biggies.

Since March 2020, when Covid19 brought an end to ‘normal’, I and most everyone have longed to return to the way things were.  In a similar way, I think American Christians have been looking back over their shoulders wishing that life would do a reboot to 30-40 years ago when being a Christian was ‘acceptable’ and even commendable.

Joe’s sermon confirmed in my heart that ‘normal’ is NOT what I think it is.  Normal IS persecution.  I’ve just been living in a bubble.

Back to my Hispanic friends and my growing empathy for ‘aliens’ and recent arrivals to the States. Many don’t feel as though they belong, whether they are documented or not. What does ‘not belonging’ look like?  Degrees of persecution are routine experiences just because they are Hispanic. Like what?

  • The mildest poor treatment is indifference. Ignoring those who are not like the majority happens even in moms’ morning-out groups at a church.
  • The sting of jokes and epithets
  • Language barriers that hinder immigrants from finding community resources.

Exclusion hurts!

Then there are those in detention camps, waiting and hoping, living in difficult conditions, in a kind of limbo between appointments with lawyers and court dates, at the mercy of any kindness.

Thoughts during the sermon made me realize:

  • How I and other believing Christians need to accept that WE, Jesus’ followers, are the aliens, the unwanted and unwelcome in many parts of our country. Often scorned, mocked and intimidated into being quiet.

Somehow knowing this and embracing this REALITY cheered me as a tonic to my soul. Coming to terms with the ‘logic’ of persecution allowed me to shed that, “I just want things to go back to normal, when being a Christian was accepted.”

What a pipe dream. Let’s get real: the ruling majority KILLED Jesus. Furthermore, this Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity taught: Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)

Don’t you think it’s easier to live with the truth? Do we really want a return to ‘normal’?

At this point in my life, I now know that I want to complete my work and my training here as an exile. ‘Graduating’ to REAL LIFE in the presence of Jesus seems more appealing. AND I trust God’s timetable for me.

As our Sunday school teacher mentioned after the sermon: ‘The Good News is not that things are going to get better but that Jesus died once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.” (1 Peter 3:18). That was good news for the persecuted church in Peter’s day and it is just as true and meaningful today.

 

 

 

 

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