The newest youtube craze, I can only hope it quickly replaces Harlem Shake
The newest youtube craze, I can only hope it quickly replaces Harlem Shake
I can’t help but think I miss the idea of the Sabbath. This probably not shocking to anyone. Not many people really take the idea of sabbath seriously. We go to church on Sunday, head home and do whatever else we feel like. The most spiritual among us joke about how we take the Sabbath seriously because we are committed to taking a nap every Sunday afternoon.
I love a good nap. It is one of the ways God says “I love you” to us. But sometimes I can’t help but feel like I’m missing the whole sabbath thing. Even when I nap. I don’t really take a day to rest. Even on “days off” I’m working around the house, doing chores, picking up the yard. Taking a full day to rest sounds great, but seems impractical. Maybe that was God’s whole idea. I don’t know.
I know the thought of just taking an entire day each week to stop sounds heavenly, ironically enough, because it was designed to be and because it seems out of reach. But lately I’m wondering if it goes deeper. I am no theological expert on the sabbath. I confess I don’t even manage to keep it in the most literal sense, and here I am wondering if there is an even deeper issue I’m missing.
See when I think about literally keeping the sabbath, I think of a nap, and an afternoon watching football, and not having to cook dinner. I think of a day of laying around doing what I want; a day spent resting. My sabbath is all about me.
Yet when Jesus was asked about the sabbath, how he didn’t appear to take the appropriate ”me day” he said mercy is better than sacrifice.
Could it be the heart of the sabbath is help make me merciful? What if taking one day out of 6 off was what it took to reset my brain, and clear my schedule enough that I could find time to be merciful? What if a day to recharge isn’t so I can live in luxury but so I can live focused the other 6 days? Maybe sabbath is about making me into who God wants me to be.
To read Part 1 of this series click here.
So contentment is more than “being happy with what you have” because what you have will never make you happy. If we are going to be content people it starts by getting rid of the idea that stuff, relationships, position, or people can make us happy.
But then where do we find contentment? Paul said he was content no matter what. Take a look at the bigger picture of his life. Paul most likely grew up in wealth. At the very least he didn’t want for much. In Philippians 3 he talks about all the things he had going for him. Whatever society called successful Paul had. In fact he could one-up just about anyone Then he meets Jesus. He endures social scorn. He is frequently beaten and imprisoned. He chooses to go Jerusalem knowing he will be arrested. He wants more than anything to go Asia and God won’t let him. Instead God sends him to Macedonia, where, upon his arrival, he is promptly beaten and imprisoned.
It’s obvious Paul didn’t really on stuff to be able to say “whatsoever state I am in” I am content. There was times when there was no stuff to rely on. So what did make Paul so content, and how can we experience it too?
The simple answer is Paul was actively engaged in God’s purpose for his life. And fulfilling his purpose meant more than anything to Paul. In Philippians 3 Paul actually does a side by side comparison almost. He lists all the things he could rely on to make him “somebody” and it quite the impressive list. Paul had all the things that determined status, popularity, and success in his culture and yet he says he looks at them as garbage compared to following Jesus.
How about us? Are we so consumed with living the life God has for us that everything else feels like a waste? Or do we still feel like we need just one more, gadget, promotion, or award to be happy? I can’t give you a step by step on how to get there, but I know figuring out how to love Jesus more than all these is the only way we will be content.
The perfect gift for the toast expert in your life who has everything
It is often said contentment is being happy with what you have. I’m not entirely sure where that came from. I would have to say I’m not fully content with that definition.
As we head to Thanksgiving and then Christmas it seems like a good time to reflect on what it means to be content. If you don’t believe me consider this irony, we dedicate one day a year to giving thanks for all we have been blessed with. Many of us spend it planning and prepping for the day after, where we dedicate one day a year to buying as much new stuff as possible. Because, you know, all the stuff we just gave thanks for is, well, old.
We can misunderstand contentment, and it can have a bigger impact on our lives than we realize. It keeps us from living life the way God wants us to. So what is contentment, and how did we live contented lives? It starts by getting rid of what keeps us from it.
In Philippians 4:11-12 Paul talks about what he has learned about contentment. He says he has seen wealth and poverty, he knows what it is like to have and to lack, to be hungry and to be full. And in every situation, no matter what, he says he knows how to be content. This is pretty big talk. If contentment means being happy with what you have, I wouldn’t believe him. So maybe contentment means something more.
The “happy with what you have” idea of contentment is still grounded in stuff, or relationships, making you happy. It says “so you don’t have the nicest car, be happy you have a car.” ”You don’t have a lot of money, be happy you have a great family.” ”Your house isn’t the biggest, but your family is healthy.” The heart of the message is “just look on the bright side.”
The problem is not every day has a bright side. Saying “be happy with what you have” assumes you are talking to people who have stuff. I don’t know if Paul was “happy with what he had” when there wasn’t enough food to go around, or when he spent the night in the cold with no coat. It’s hard to be “happy with what you have” when you don’t have anything.
Just ask Horatio Spafford, the author of “It is Well with My Soul.” His story is well known. Essentially over a 2 year span he lost everything, his wealth, his children, all of it. And still he penned the words “whatever my lot, though has taught me to say, it well with my soul.” Somehow I doubt it was a “look on the bright side” “at least you still have your wife” attitude that enabled him to write that. No, Spafford, and Paul, knew what contentment was about, and it wasn’t based on stuff. It was based on their relationship with Jesus and what they knew and trusted he was doing in their lives.
If we are going to learn to be content no matter what like Paul it starts by getting rid of the idea that stuff, or people, or relationships, or hobbies will make us happy. We can’t just be happy with what we have, because what we have will never be enough. We have to stop focusing on stuff altogether as a way to make us happy.
Darth Vader, Disney just bought your franchise, what are you going to do next?
When I was in college I attended a pentecostal church for a while. I needed a break from lectures about the Bible, and it was nice to spend time around people who were excited about Jesus, and showed it. And oh, did they show it.
As I came in and sat down one week, worship started. An elderly lady sat near me. As the song got going she reached down and pulled out a tambourine. A quick glimpse around showed no one else had a tambourine. They must not have been handing them out at the door. A few somewhat on time shakes from her let me know she had probably not been recruited to serve as a “crowd-plant” member of the praise team. No she had, on her own, bought, and then brought from home, her own tambourine.
Next week I went back, and having grown up baptist, sat in the same place. So did she; and her tambourine. It was like every song had a fever, and the only cure? More tambourine. But the church was growing and it was so different I kept going, long enough to grow accustomed to having a tambourine section next to me in worship.
Then, things got, stranger. One week, just as I was getting used to the tambourine, another lady a few rows away stepped out into the aisle. She wasn’t wearing any shoes. Not completely strange. Just enough to make go “what is she doing?” I didn’t wonder long. She reached down under her seat. ”It’s another tambourine” I thought. Even better. She pulled out a home-made flag, unfurled it, and began to skip/dance up and down the aisles. No one else seemed phased by this.
Maybe that seems pretty tame for you, but I’m guessing for most people it sounds like some strange worship. The thing is even if your worship time doesn’t rival this one for uniqueness or oddity, it’s probably stranger than you think. Sometimes we speak aloud in unison. Why? Have you ever been to a church where spontaneous hand holding takes place? No one said to hold hands, yet here we all are like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Everyone stands together. Many of us all stare at the same screens and sing at them. Is God going to appear on the screen?
We don’t think about it because we do it every week. For many people worship is just a habit. Go, stand, stare, sing, sit, listen, leave. They never even give a thought to what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how odd it might seem to someone else. But worship is more.
We shouldn’t go because we feel we have to or out of habit, we go because we need to connect with other believers. We shouldn’t stand because everyone else does. We stand because it shows respect (a gentleman stands when his date does, we stand when a judge enters the court, we stand for the national anthem- all to show respect). We don’t stare blankly, but to reflect on words which help us better understand who God is and express our love to him. We don’t sing because the melody is catchy, but because we want to join others in declaring our love to God. We don’t get any spiritual attendance credit for sitting and listening, we listen to learn and know more about God.
In the end worship probably isn’t so strange. It just seems that way when we forget why we do it and simply make it habit. But when we are reminded of who we worship, the one who set the moon, and hung each star, whose train fills the temple, the Ancient of Days who is everywhere, all the time, knowing everything, it becomes the most natural thing in the world.
Of all the strange churchy things I think this one seems the most normal to people. Yet I feel like it might be the most strange. It feels normal because it is not unique to Christianity. People may think communion or baptism are odd since no one else does those; but people from almost every religion pray.
Yet it should seem odd, to everyone. We spend time talking to a deity no one can see. We talk about listening to God in prayer, yet he never answer audibly. We tell people prayer is the most important thing, and so often it is the last thing we do.
Not to mention the strange things people do when they pray. Have you ever heard a “key phrase” repeated over and over in a prayer? Instead of saying “umm” or “uhh” we insert a more spiritual sounding phrase like “Father God” or “Lord.” Then there is the song lyric prayer. ”Lord you are Holy Holy Holy, Lord God almighty. Blessed be the name of the Lord, you give and take away, and so we will sing of your love forever, because we need you every hour, and so we thank you for amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.”
Of course on top of this we must remember we are speaking to the most Holy God and so our language and demeanor must be fitting of such. So we try to speak in our most elegant and refined tones.
It’s no wonder we struggle to pray. But I can’t help but think maybe we over complicate it. In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us about prayer, and he only needs 8 verses to do it. If it only takes 8 verses how complicated can it be?
Jesus said when we pray we don’t need to heap up empty words, God is not impressed. I can just be honest with God. Here is where I complicate prayer though. I start to believe the quality of prayer, is equal to the length of prayer. The longer I pray the better the prayer time is.
But that doesn’t fit with what Jesus said. He is not impressed with how long I pray if I spend half my time saying nothing, or just repeating myself. I don’t need a bunch of spiritual “umms” to fill space. And knowing I can just be honest, that length doesn’t dictate quality, makes prayer a lot less intimidating.
So, if you took the next 30 seconds, and instead of trying to impress God, you were just honest with him, what would you pray?
In case you hadn’t seen this yet
When I was little, growing up in church, sometimes, during a service, we would stop for snack time. What else does a kid call it when you give out juice and crackers? And then the cruelest of all tricks was played. Snack time was reserved for, what seemed like, adults only. As I got a little older I learned it was part of following Jesus. You had to be a follower to get a snack. That Jesus is a smart guy, free snacks with sign-up! Who wouldn’t take that deal?
Then I became a follower, I got take part in snack time. I felt cheated. The cracker was bland and mostly stale, and there was no where near enough juice in the cup to wash it down. I seriously misunderstood communion.
Later I’d find I wasn’t alone. For one reason or another it has been a confusing and strange thing throughout church history. I mean anytime the church does something that makes people think they are cannibals it falls into the category of strange.
However, I know when I learned why we even had the last supper in the first place, the whole thing made more sense to me, and became so much more beautiful. Think about it, why did they gather for the last supper? No one but Jesus knew he was about to die. Yet no one thought it strange to gather for a special meal. Why? Because they weren’t gathering for to celebrate their last night with Christ. They weren’t expecting any strange new teaching. They were gathering for Passover.
Go back and read Exodus 12. Every year the nation of Israel would stop, sacrifice a lamb, and share a special, though somewhat odd, meal to remind them of the night they should have died, of the substitute God accepted, and the deliverance from slavery he provided.
Communion can still seem strange. The crackers are still stale, and people can make a big deal out of how often we do it, weather we use wine or grape juice, what flatware it is served on, who does the serving, and how they are dressed for that matter. We can overemphasize it and make the memorial bigger than the one it represents. But Jesus didn’t say do it to have a nice service, an emotional experience, a chance to gain spiritual brownie points, or to keep tradition. He said remember him. Because if we are not reminded of things they become common to us, and unappreciated. We all need reminded, and the bread and the cup engage all of our sense to remind us that I should have died, that Jesus died in my place, a substitute God accepted, that God has delivered me from slavery to sin and death.