Busy, Busy, Busy

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“The spirit of our times is joyless urgency…” – Marilynne Robinson
Read that line again, and if you don’t have time, well there is the irony right there. The spirit of our times is joyless urgency.
Doesn’t that capture where we are at as a society, as a culture, as a people, even? Aren’t we rushing from one thing to the next, always busy, always hurried, unable to even enjoy all the things that rush past us?
Marilynne Robinson is known to be an astute observer of our times and she resonates with me. Sometimes that’s exactly how I feel – a joyless urgency to continue rushing forward to the next thing and the next thing after that.
But, when you live like that, chasing one thing after another, you quickly end up just feeling like a “thing.” Because to be human isn’t to rush from one thing to the next; it’s to appreciate life in all of its complexities and nuances. Being human is to have space to experience joy and grief.
So, if you are rushing from one joyless experience to the next, I have a remedy. It’s old, and it’s often admired and untried. It’s called Sabbath. 
Take one day this week to rest. To relax. To unplug. To cease the endless rushing and to live in whatever space you may be in – good or bad. Stop the joyless urgency and running, and slow down for one day. You may feel bored, you may feel purposeless or even inefficient (that’s almost a synonym for sin in our culture), but my promise is if you do it consistently, you will feel healthy.
The spirit of our age is joyless urgency, but that doesn’t need to be your spirit. Sabbath.
“If there is any truth in relevant statistics – I doubt them all – perhaps health and longevity are not the effect of diet, of fish, vegetables, and olive oil, but having a little time to oneself, with family and friends.” – Marilynne Robinson

Quit Trying to Get Ahead and Rest

rest-1579864-1279x1802Today I’m not writing a blog post. I’m simply going to post a quote, it’s long and it’s good, and I’m going to go take a nap. I think you should after reading this too:

“Maybe what we all need most is time to process what we already know that we can put it together differently, even more effectively than ever before. Maybe we need to think a bit, out on a porch in a summer breeze, down by the creek when the trout are running, back in the garden when it’s time to put the beet and beans in again.

Turn off the television and read a good book. Quit texting and ride your bike. Close the computer and go to a movie. Don’t’ answer any emails. Don’t try to ‘get ahead’. Don’t’ take any callback. And during the family dinner, turn off the phone. And when the television is on, watch it instead of talking through it. Reclaim your life, your thoughts, your personality, your friends, your family.

No, the world will not end. And no, the rest of the staff will not get ahead of you. They’ll be too tired to even think about catching up. It’s time to sleep in like you did in the good old days. Have a late breakfast. Read the newspapers all day long. Call some friends in for a game of pinochle. And then, on Monday, go back to work – having really gotten away from it all – feeling like what you have to do is really worth doing. As Ashleigh Brilliant says, ‘Sometimes the most urgent and vital thing you can possibly do is to take a complete rest.” – Joan Chittister

The Gift of Limits

1395612_80122675Today I want to explore a little bit about what God gives in Genesis 1 and 2 to Adam and Eve. The first few chapters of Genesis are crucial for theology as we see the foundation for humanity, without the mark of sin. And what is interesting is that God gives Adam and Eve two things: responsibility and limitations. And let me say this, both are gifts.

God gives Adam and Eve responsibility, to be “fruitful and multiply” and steward the earth (Genesis 1:28). We are familiar with this part of the story; that they are given responsibilities and a task. And we understand this for our own lives. That God gives us gifts, abilities, and responsibilities that go along with those gifts. We are called to steward not only the earth, but our responsibilities well – and to increase the flourishing of life around us.

Yet God also does something very interesting. He sets limits. He gives Adam and Eve the garden to tend to, but sets very precise limits about its location and its boundaries (Genesis 2:10). And I think this is really something that we miss. God gives limits because limits are a blessing. We cannot be responsible for everything. We cannot do everything we want to. Responsibility reminds us of our calling to others, and limits reminds us of our need for others.

We cannot accomplish the calling of God upon our lives without both of these things, limits and boundaries, in equal play in our lives. If we live without limits we burn ourselves out, tend to use people, and forget we need others. If we live without responsibility we become a burden to others, self-centered, and destructive. We need to use our responsibility, but acknowledge our limits. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I can’t do more”. God gave limits to Adam and Eve in the garden before there was sin. Limits then are not a result of the fall, but a gift of God to remind us we need each other. I can’t do it all, and neither can you. We need one another.

So I think this is worth thinking about. To reflect on what responsibilities has God given you? And what limitations has he also given you? Who can you lean on when you come to your limits, and how might they help you to see a greater flourishing of life around you?

The point is this, limits aren’t a bad thing, they may be one of the biggest blessings God has given us if we would but acknowledge them.

A Flood, a Story, and the History of Noah

Unidentified_artists_-_Stories_of_Noah_-_Noah_and_the_Ark_-_WGA16281So on Sunday we explored the story of Noah. And while in today’s day and age people love to debate if it really happened, back then no one debated whether or not a flood happened. What they debated was what the flood meant.

So we compared and contrasted the Story of the Great Deluge from the Epic of Gilgamesh, a contemporary cultural story to Noah, with the Biblical account found in Genesis 6. Through comparing these stories we were able to discover three key areas that the Biblical narrative was countering the dominant cultural story of the day.

From the opening scene we saw in how the Epic of Gilgamesh the gods were fickle, cantankerous, capricious, and angry. This is in stark contrast to the Biblical account where God in the Bible has his heart broken over the wickedness of the people. Both stories agree that the people were wicked and had made a covenant with death. But the different lies in the reaction of the gods and God. The God of the Bible had a depth of care and mercy, the gods of Gilgamesh were small and angry. So the first lesson was shaping our view of God as someone with depth, love, and mercy.

The second lesson was found in the differences of the main characters. Noah was consistently portrayed as someone who simply followed God’s leading. He was obedient, he was faithful, and he followed. Whereas in the Epic of Gilgamesh Utnapishtim was portrayed as someone who took fate into his own hand, and survived because of his skill rather than surrender to God. This is a huge difference, that as Christians we are called not to make it through the disasters around us through relying on our skill but on our surrender to God.

The last difference was seen in the rewards given to the main characters. Utnapishtim received eternal life because of his works, and was taken from the world. Noah received a blessing from God but was then sent back into the world. The rewards differed, in that Noah wasn’t removed from the earth but sent back into the world as God’s representative.

So we saw how the Biblical account demonstrates a God who cares, the need for us to surrender, and a God not interested in removing us from the world but using us to change the world. So we landed on one practical take away. Utnapishtim trusted his own skill and ability to get him through the difficult waters. Noah surrendered and trusted in God. So we asked ourselves, when difficulty comes do we try to go it alone or go with God? Do we rest, pause, and ask God what he would have us do or rely on our own strength and skill? We left with the challenge to be like Noah this week. Don’t trust ourselves but the guidance of God, asking God what would you have me do? And then, like Noah, following with deep trust.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Two ways through life ~ Force and Trust

Take Aways…

  • The story of Noah challenges the dominant story of the day
  • Sin pushes toward its self-chosen future: death – R. R. Reno
  • God has a heart that can break
  • Noah makes it through because he relies and surrenders himself to God
  • Noah’s name means rest
  • Noah is sent back inot the world as a representative of God
  •  Don’t rely on your own skill or strength, rely on God

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What did you take away? What was new? Have you ever thought about God’s heart breaking before? How should that shape your picture of God? What is your natural reaction to difficulty to rely on yourself or God? How often do you ask God to direct you during the day? How often should you ask him to direct you?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment and talk about your kids about today’s sermon. Talk to them about how God’s heart is like ours – that it can break. Talk about how the best way to get through life is to trust God because he has our best interests at heart. Teach them to ask God to direct them in decisions they need to make.

Challenge for this Week: Ask God to direct you

The God of Limits

limitsUsually we think of God as unlimited in everything. And in a traditional sense I think this is true and good. That his love is limitless, that his power is vast, and his forgiveness faithful and overflowing.

The trouble is that we forget that Jesus had limits, so we forget or pretend that we don’t have limits. The point is that if the Son of God had limits and created healthy boundaries on earth so should we as his followers. I know that it might seem weird to think of Jesus having limits, but that’s what the Gospels seem to point to. Jesus didn’t heal everyone there was. Jesus didn’t convince and save everyone around him. Jesus wasn’t able to change everyone. Jesus got tired. Jesus retreated. Jesus got frustrated with the disciples. Jesus had limits and he knew it.

The problem is that Christians, and pastors especially, forget that we have natural limits. We forget that we can’t save everyone, and having healthy boundaries isn’t a bad thing, it’s a necessary thing. The problem is that we believe it is our “mission” to change the world and save as many as possible, even at the expense of our families, friends, and personal health. The problem with that is twofold: first it’s not our mission, it’s God’s; second not respecting our natural limits and boundaries doesn’t follow Jesus’ example. Jesus got tired and retreated. Jesus provided for his family. Jesus as a human being had limits because all of humanity has limits. This is not a bad thing, in fact it is a wonderful thing. The limitless God above, wants to use us even with our limits, but we must recognize that we each have limits. I can’t meet with everyone. I can’t save everyone. I can’t give to everyone. Sometimes I have to say no. Sometimes I need to not check my emails. Sometimes I need to trust that God can handle things without me for a while.

Parker Palmer writes, “Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to our true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves, but for the many others who lives we touch.”

I think he’s right, because that truth flows from the life of Jesus. Jesus didn’t run himself ragged, burnout, and falter because he took care of himself so he could accomplish something greater than himself. That’s our calling too. To take care of ourselves so we can accomplish something greater than ourselves.

So today take care of yourself, in ways that make sense for you: rest, pray, play, take a walk, read, cook a good meal, say no to something. Become aware of limits, and don’t worry about overcoming them, trust in God to work within them.

Labor is a Craft, Perfect Rest is An Art

On Sunday we shared about Sabbath. You’ll be able to download the sermon here. I shared about how the very first thing that God calls holy is the Sabbath. He declares that it is special. It is to be set aside and not used in an ordinary way. The point isn’t to become legalistic about Sabbath but to enter into the beauty and art of it. Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that “Labor is a craft but perfect rest is an art”. This is why trying to approach keeping the Sabbath from a perspective of rules always fails. It’s like trying to paint a beautiful piece of art through using a paint-by-numbers approach. The point is that appreciating the holiness, beauty, and gift of Sabbath is more of an art-form and less of a list of rules to keep.

So my goal yesterday was to inspire us to take a Sabbath. In Exodus 20:8 we read that for six days you will work and complete all your work. As I mentioned, no one ever completes all their work in 6 days. The point is that when we come to the seventh day, the Sabbath, we rest as if all the work has been completed. We leave it up to God and enter into the day. We seek to practice the art of keeping Sabbath.

So my question to you is what helps you to practice the art of Sabbath? What makes the day special for you and helps you to accept the gift it is?

For me Sabbath keeping is all about trust. It’s about trusting God to take care of all that needs to be taken care of. I trust him that he cares for his church, his people, and for my family. I slow down and have good meals, good conversation, and good connections with friends.

For you though what helps you mark a day as special?

 

Discussion Questions:

Adult Discussion Questions: What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? What makes you feel really rested? How have you felt – when you didn’t rest? What about this sermon inspires you to take time? When can you take a moment to rest and truly “Sabbath”?

Questions for Young Families: Rather than talking about Sabbath take one with your kids. Talk to them how you are going to put away work and be present with them for the day. Share with them why its important and then do it together.

Challenge for the Week: Take a Sabbath

Learning to Rest

This Sunday we are looking at rest, relaxation, and Sabbath.

As Christians, learning to rest and connect with God should be something that is a part of our weekly rhythm, but often it’s not. Often our lives are hurried, rushed, and even frantic. We have emails, meetings, kids classes to take, and an effort to eat healthy. All of this can leave us feeling drained and down before we even come to take a rest.

So on Sunday I want to explore not why we should rest. I think we all know that it’s healthy to rest. Simply work 7 days a week for 6 months and see how you feel after that. The point isn’t why we need to, but how we might rest.

This is what I want to explore on Sunday, how the practice of Sabbath can actually drive our relationship with God and others deeper. I want to seek to share with you how you might start to rest and relax. I want to discover a surprising reality that the very first thing that is called holy isn’t a thing at all, but a period of time.

But why wait to start taking a Sabbath till we’ve talked about it Sunday. Why not start this weekend? Plan out a time to rest and relax. What is it that really helps you to slow down and connect?

For me I’m planning a lovely late Friday night meal with my amazing wife, once Hudson has gone to bed. We’ll talk and sip some fancy soda’s given to us from the church, talk, and reflect. And then have a late night cup of coffee.

This is my plan, but for you – is resting important enough to actually plan? Is it something you hope to do? Or something you must do? Because what we’ll understand on Sunday is that Sabbath is a gift – a gift though you have to choose to receive…

Learning to Rest

Last year our vacation at a cottage

Resting is so hard. At first glance, resting seems easy doesn’t it. You just sit back on your couch, grab some food and a drink, and watch some reality TV. There you’re resting…But is this truly resting?

I think that truly resting, soul-resting, “sabbathing” is much more difficult.

This is the type of rest that isn’t a result of exhaustion, but actually re-energizes you. This type of rest isn’t just about zoning out for an hour, but being aware of all the gift and grace around you. This type of rest isn’t just about not looking at emails, but mentally and emotionally leaving behind all the work baggage as well. This type of rest is spiritual, it is deep, it is important, and it is actually ordered and modeled by God in the Bible. We aren’t supposed to just work, create, and seek progress. We are called to reflect, to pause, and to truly rest. This type of rest isn’t easy but it is not only worthwhile, it is Godly.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art”

And later this week I’m going to try to perfect that art. I’m going away for a vacation, a sabbath time. Next week for me won’t be about zoning out for a night, but really “zoning into” connecting with my son, my family, and most of all, with God. I’m going to put away my distractions, my emails, and I won’t be blogging and instead I’m going to intentionally seek to create space in both my thoughts and life to connect with my God and my family.

This type of rest is hard, but this is the type of rest that matters. It’s an art worth perfecting because I don’t want to be a pastor, a father, a husband, or a friend for the short-term. I want to be a close friend, committed pastor, loving husband, and connected father for a lifetime. Life isn’t a sprint, it’s a long haul. So I will pause, reflect, and rest. The truth is I try to work very hard, and put a lot of effort into my calling. But what type of model would I be for my son, my church, my friends, if I didn’t put that same type of effort into resting, connecting, and reflecting?

So before I get away I have a simple question for you: are you resting? The true deep type of rest I’ve been talking about. Are you taking a sabbath weekly? Are you slowing down to appreciate all you have? Does your life show that you value life / family / and friends or work most? These are hard questions, but important ones, because as Christians we are to look and act like Jesus and God. In this case that means resting.

So this week take a day and perfect the art of sabbath, of resting. Work at it. And I’ll be doing the same…