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Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
Exodus 20:8

Preface: I’ve struggled about whether to make this a part of the “Let’s Be PC (Practicing Christians)” series, because there are many who believe that we have been released from any requirement to observe the Sabbath. In this series of three blogs you won’t find me citing (or refuting) the Scriptures that support their case. Rather, I look at the intent of the original commandment (part 1) and, having become convinced that it represents the heart of God, I address the tremendously positive reasons to observe a weekly Sabbath (part 2), and finally, some practical guidelines to keep us from legalism (part 3). So if you disagree that keeping a Sabbath is part of being a Practicing Christian, that’s OK. Don’t abandon the series – hang in there reading all three blogs and then let me know what you think. (Of course, feel free to leave comments on each blog. I love comments.)

“Ten Words”
The Lord spoke to the Israelites, giving them what is called the “ten words” or Decalogue. They are the only words He spoke to them directly. All other words He spoke through Moses. The content of those words is what we call the Ten Commandments. They provide instructions about the Israelites’ responsibilities toward God and toward one another. Their importance is not only underscored by being spoken directly by God, but also by their repetition, in whole or part, throughout the Old Testament.

I find it utterly amazing that in choosing to define the ten most important things that the Israelites should know and do, God chose to include a commandment to rest. Intermingled with commandments to not worship other gods, make false idols, steal, kill or commit adultery, is the commandment to rest one day each week. To our modern work ethic and independent western mindset, this makes little or no sense. To begin with, how can resting be as important as not killing or stealing? Secondly, in what way does resting honor God? We tend to think of our service to Him and others as honoring Him. Yet the fourth commandment reveals to us that resting somehow also honors God.

What a gift God gave to His people! Think about it – in the Garden of Eden, man sinned against God. His punishment was “in toil you shall eat of [the earth] all the days of your life” and “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:17b, 19a). Man’s punishment, in part, was that subduing the earth would now be accomplished by hard work. Yet God, in His great foreknowledge and mercy, had already established the seventh day as a day of rest and had blessed the day (Genesis 2:2-3). Before the fall of man, God laid the groundwork for the gift He would give His people – the gift that would provide a respite from the punishment they would soon bring upon themselves. What a gracious and kind God He is!

A Commandment to Remember and Rest!
The Ten Commandments were spoken by God to the Israelites and are recorded in Exodus 20:1-21. The Sabbath commandment is as follows:

8Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
Exodus 20:8-11

Moses repeats the Ten Commandments in their entirety and with few modifications in Deuteronomy 5:1-21.

Within the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath commandment is given more attention than any of the others. With the exception of the commandment to not make and worship idols all other commandments are a single sentence and verse. The Sabbath is given 4 verses, both in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

God tells us to “remember the Sabbath.” The word “remember” doesn’t simply mean to remember what day of the week it is. It means to set it aside or mark it as different. I can’t help but be convinced that when we honor the commandment, we also mark ourselves as different – because we live in a culture that defines spending our time in the constant pursuit of gaining more and having more as the very pinnacle of success. Our very practice of observing a weekly Sabbath says “there are things that are more important in life than just getting more things.”

A Sanctified Day
I grew up being told many things that I could not do because it was Sunday. One that always irked me as a young teenager was the rule that you can’t sew on Sundays because sewing was considered work. I tried in vain to explain that sewing was enjoyment to me, not work, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was not allowed to sew on Sundays. This in a household that was not very religious.

The Jews and many Christians (although many less today than in generations gone by) spent a lot of time defining what was NOT allowed because those things violated the commandment to “not work.” For many, this negative approach caused the day to lose it’s “remembering” aspect. Perhaps we focus so much on the “not doing” simply because it’s so much easier than defining what we should be doing to honor the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath is really about setting aside time to rest and enjoy the wonder of God and His creation as it is about.

In his book The Sabbath, Its Meaning for Modern Man, Abraham Heschel, does a masterful job of communicating this. Referring to the physical world and things in it as “space,” he explains the difference between the Sabbath and other days:

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space [i.e., the physical world]; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” (page 10)

Comedian Sam Levenson remembers understanding as a child that “through their [Sabbath] traditions [his parents] had the power to separate mundane time from sacred time, to declare one day out of seven above and beyond the slavish struggle for survival.”[1] Clearly, through traditions that might seem to outsiders to be nonsensical or annoying, the Sabbath was a day “set apart” as different from other days. Not different because we run errands or play instead of work, but different because it has spiritual significance. It is “holy” as God defined it.

As New Testament believers, we serve the same God who considered the Sabbath as important as those other commandments – thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt have no other Gods before Me. Honoring the Sabbath helps with that last one. Through these blogs, I’d like to encourage all of us to enter into that holiness in time. I am convinced that honoring God sets us apart as different from our culture (which is a good thing) and puts us in a better position to know Him and receive His blessing.

Tomorrow I’ll give you my six most compelling reasons to observe a Sabbath. Stay tuned…

[1] Sam Levenson, 1966 autobiography Everything but Money, p. 88, as quoted in the article “Fourth and Long: Presenting (and Resenting) the Sabbath” by Elliott Horowitz ; in The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol.97, No.3 (Summer 2007) published by the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, p. 453

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God cares! He must because He chose to preserve it for us to read!

I’ll be honest with you…sometimes that reading is more like slogging through mud for me! I’ve found, though, that there are some precious things to be found in mud, though. There are some beautiful flowers that grow in/near mud – like lotuses, water lilies, marsh orchids and sea lavender. When I’m in slogging mode, though, I know that I don’t always pause to notice them.

aquatic plant

In my reading of Chronicles, I try to look for the beautiful blossoms. For example, when reading all those lists of names, I don’t pronounce each name in my head. I skim the material looking for names I recognize from my reading of Kings. Sometimes the process brings an “oh, yeah!” moment. Not quite an “ah ha!” moment, but a familiar, “look at that connection” moment. Now the truth is that all these names run together for me and I don’t in any way feel prompted to study the genealogies, but occasionally something jumps out at me.

I also look for passages that break the pattern. That’s how you’ll find the prayer of Jabez. Stuck right there in verses 9 and 10 of 1 Chronicles 4, in the midst of chapters and chapters of genealogies, we learn about an honorable man who was named Jabez because he born in pain. Jabez cried out to God “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” The end of the verse speaks for itself: “And God granted his request.” There’s a whole book (or two or three) in those two verses!

A break in the pattern is also how I found 1 Chronicles 2:7: “Achar, who brought trouble on Israel by violating the ban on taking devoted things.” I read this verse and it prompted an immediate prayer in my heart: “Lord, I don’t want to be remembered for all posterity as one who disobeyed You. Keep me devoted to You.”

Friends, let me encourage you not to get stuck in the mud as you read through 1 and 2 Chronicles. Don’t belabor the chapters, but look for hidden treasure. Sometimes it’s closer to the surface than you might expect!

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This blog is a part of a blog series called “The Heart of a Worshipper” series, or HWS. My prayer is that you will be blessed and transformed as you grow in your own worship of the King of Kings.

“Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength” Worship, Part 1

What is worship? That’s a question that I continually return to in my own study of the subject. If we were to survey the congregation asking for a definition of worship, I’m confident we’d get many different answers. A previous blog in this series focused on Eugene Peterson’s definition, in which he encourages us to “interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.” Peterson spurs me on to deny myself in pursuit of God (and that’s a good thing!).

Another favorite definition of mine comes from the excellent book Real Worship by Warren Wiersbe. Wiersbe’s definition begins much as God’s first commandment does and continues through to the end result of worship:

“Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, and body – to what God is and says and does. This response has its mystical side in subjective experience and it’s practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed will. Worship is a loving response that’s balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better. And what should be the result of all this? Transformation.”
     (page 26, Real Worship)

In eighty words, Wiersbe:

  1. Defines worship (first sentence);
  2. Explains what it looks like (second sentence);
  3. Addresses a major area of confusion in worship – loving the Lord vs. fearing Him (third sentence);
  4. And defines what the result is (fourth and fifth sentences).

He has my vote for being able to pack a lot of meaning into eighty words! Let’s look at each of these points.

What is Worship?
Wiersbe’s definition of worship mirrors Jesus’ exhortation to us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Look at the similarities:

Mark 12:30

Wiersbe’s Definition of Worship

Love the Lord your God with
all your…
Worship is the believer’s response
of all their…
     Heart      Emotions
     Soul      Will
     Mind      Mind
     Strength      Body

Jesus introduced us to wholehearted devotion to the Lord. He said “Give it all you’ve got; don’t hold anything back.”

Jesus wants our heart – our emotions. But not just our emotions because He knows that we can be quite fickle. He also wants our will – our commitment to follow Him even when we don’t feel like it. He doesn’t expect us to follow Him blindly, He’s give us minds with which to evaluate His claims and the claims of others. He wants us to study Him and His Words, to engage our minds. Yet He doesn’t want only our love and our commitment to follow Him and our engaged mind seeking Him, He also wants our bodies – He wants us engaged in acts of service.

Wiersbe goes on to explain how these four elements (heart, soul, mind and strength or emotions, will, mind and body) interact. He points out that true worship is both experiential (mystical) and objective (practical).

A question I frequently ask myself is this: “Does my worship reflect Mark 12:30? Am I worshipping God with my whole heart (or my emotions), with my whole soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength?” Sometimes I answer that question too easily – a quick “yes” or “of course” – because I don’t really evaluate the question, I just answer it. To avoid this automatic response I sometimes ask the question a bit differently: “What am I doing that reveals that I am worshipping God with my whole heart? What evidence is there that I am worshipping God with all my emotions? How am I worshipping God with my mind? In what ways am I worshipping God with all my strength?”

Think about it for awhile…tomorrow I’ll blog “Part 2”  of “Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength” Worship. See you then!

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“Holiness is what I long for; holiness is what I need; holiness is what You ask of me.”

Nice song. Nice words. Now it’s time to sit down and listen to the pastor’s teaching.

Wait a minute! We just sang “Holiness is what I long for?” Did we mean it? Did I mean it when I sang that I longed for holiness? Did you?

The Random House College Dictionary defines “long” as “to have an earnest or strong desire; yearn.” Nothing unexpected there; but I wonder if I water down the word in my mind when I sing that song.

Think about the concept with me. What things do you long for? There are days when I just long for them to be over. I long for some of the hopes and dreams I have for my life to come to pass. I long for my mother to be restored to health. Perhaps even more than the longing for her to be restored to health is the longing for her be able to meet God where she is. Sometimes I long for a cold glass of water or a hot cup of tea. Sometimes I long for God to comfort me or encourage me. I’m not sure all of my longings show me to be the Godly woman I want to be, but I’m pretty sure they show me to be fallible and human.

But do I long to become holy? Frequently, I’m afraid, I do not. Frequently I find, that I’d rather be mediocre in my holiness. You know, the “I’m not as good as some, but better than most” attitude. Hmmmm. Sounds like I’ve heard a sermon or two on this subject…something about the degree of pharisee that exists in me. I hate it when I get hit with old sermons!

I’m also reminded of the Mary and Martha story, where Jesus said to Martha “Mary has chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42). Do I choose what is better or do I choose what is easy. A longing for holiness would lead me to choose the better part.

Let’s see:

  • Sleep or devotions? Devotions is the better part; I frequently choose sleep.
  • TV or extended prayer time? Chilling out in front of the TV can be pretty attractive, but prayer is the better part.
  • Relaxing in my chair after a hard day of work or participating in a small group Bible study? The small group Bible study holds significantly more opportunity for God to speak to me and to use me and others in the group to minister to the needs of a friend.
  • Joining in a pick-up game of volleyball in the park or helping my neighbor paint her garage? The neighbor needs to know Jesus, but the volleyball game sure would be fun. And I haven’t played volleyball in so long. The neighbor needs to know Jesus; that’s the better part.

The list could go on, but you get the idea. The question is “does my lifestyle illustrate or demonstrate that I mean the words I sing ‘Holiness is what I long for’?” It is not my desire to strengthen your sense of legalism, because “the letter [of the law] kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3:6). You don’t need me to develop your list of “ought to’s”. There will be times when God says, “yes, you should sleep longer today,” or “yes, I want to meet with just you this evening, so stay home from church or Bible study”. The issue is your lifestyle. Which choices do you usually make? I find that more often than I’d like to admit, my choices reveal that I don’t really long for holiness, I’m pretty happy where I am.

But I don’t want to be that person. We’re studying The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer with a small group. Great book. Lots and lots about why we don’t apprehend the God who longs to meet us face to face. And a lot of it comes down to being satisfied with mediocre.

Lord, remove mediocrity from my life! I don’t want it. Let Christ reign over any tendency toward mediocrity in my life.

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