Monday, September 26, 2011

The Gifts of Sabbath

I'm off to an intentional retreat with good friends, faithful colleagues, and shared partners in ministry.

God has given me two gifts as the journey begins.

As we got to the airport to prepare for our departure, I realized that there were two people on the flight who, many years ago, maliciously and falsely claimed lies about me that they wanted to use as a framework for disabling and disempowering my work in ministry! Through a period of a few years, I endured some close scrutiny from those who believed the lies and were confused by the subterfuge of those who sought to cause me ill, and am thankful to report that the integrity of my total life experience triumphed over the vitriol of these persons hate.

It is so nice to be authentically who I am - and to live a life committed to the truth of God's work in the world. I have committed myself to study and service in the Kingdom of God - and seeing those who had willed to cause me harm was a reminder of the wonderful sense of extended Sabbath that God has granted to my life. This is the kind of Sabbath that has, indeed, "released the bond" - Isaiah. My life is characterized by wonderful, freeing Sabbath - from enemies of my past who I pray God's grace will transform, and who I hope God's love can reach!

God gave me a gift in seeing these people who had willed to be my enemies - by reminding me of all the deep goodness, wholeness and solitude that God has brought into my life in the face of my enemies. I thank God for the many gifts of so many things, I was reminded of in these few moments.

After our airplane landed at the airport hub for our layover - en route to our retreat - I discovered that one of the friends of my life had a conversation with the very persons who had tried to cause me harm in the past. Those persons shared with my friend that they were "sorry" that he was my friend! What a tragedy for them to view life in the midst of their continued attempts to cause harm. But, as they went their way, my friend shared this story with me. I shared with my friend how unfortunate it is that people have to live their life in the framework of hate and attempts to hurt others.

And then, God gave me the 2nd Gift. I looked down at my watch to orient myself to the time-zone in preparation for catching our next flight. My watch was showing the time - but not correctly. In fact, it seems a weakened battery caused my watch to completely reset - reading a date of "January 1st" - set to a Monday default - and a time that was completely wrong. A gift!

In some ways, the weakened battery caused just what I needed - I needed my "clock" to be reset as I head off to Sabbath. I needed to not be "on the clock" and not be concerned about the "hour" of the day - or the day of the week - but the moments of Sabbath that I get with my friends.

I've left my watch on my wrist - with its incorrect time - for the remainder of our days together.

It serves as a reminder to me now - that my "battery" needs to be "recharged.

It serves as a reminder to me now that I'm "off the clock" in these days - and I've been "reset" to the start of a new thing (like the New Year of January 1st) - and I truly receive these moments as Gifts of God in my life - right now.

The gift of a life lived with integrity. Thank you God.

The gift of my "clock" being reset - as this Sabbath experience re-orients my life.


I am truly, truly grateful.

~ marty alan michelson

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why do we love anti-sabbath?

In my usual internet roamings, I ran across an interesting article detailing why we as Americans love anti-Sabbath.  The title of the article "The Pride of Busyness" (find it here). The author, Mason Slater, points out some very obvious patterns in our American speech practices and shines light on how our lives point to our love of anti-Sabbath and show our pride in our busyness.

The first clue to our overwhelming passion for our overburdened schedules are the conversations we have after not seeing someone for a period of time. You know the conversation I am talking about. The one where you ask how they have been recently. Yeah, that one.  The basic content of many of those conversations is each side laying out how busy they have been recently. We have all had those conversations, and maybe we continue to have those conversations.  We say we hate being so busy. We say we long for a day of rest. We say we just want a break. However, we continue to repeat these conversations time and time again which says something about how we really feel.  As Slater points out, "Those short conversations give us a glimpse of the way people view the world, because it is often the little day to day practices that reveal our deepest values." What do those conversations reveal? They show just how proud we are of our busyness, and they show that we are "not very secretly proud either." We are blatant in our pride towards our busyness.  val

The article says it so well (you should check it out), but the saddest part about this is what our foolish pride causes us to miss. Sure we get a lot accomplished, but in the meantime we forget.
"...we forget how to sit,
and think,
and breathe,
and pray,
and read for pleasure,
and have a real conversation with friend, or family member or spouse
and savor a drink for its flavor and complexities, not its ability to chemically induce either wakefulness or sleep."

God, particularly in his commands regarding Sabbath, calls us to remember. Yet, we fall prey to the gospel of busyness. Even though, this gospel is one of those false teachers Jesus and Paul warn us about, promising one thing and delivering another. Rather than following the true gospel, which is a call to remember we choose to forget.
How do we break this cycle, this exchange of pleasantries that shows our true colors. Let me once again quote Mason Slater, "So the next time you catch up with a friend, refrain from contributing to the cycle. Refuse to brag about busyness as if it were a virtue, refuse to act like making time to rest is a mark of shame. If the very God who designed us thought that balancing work with the rest was worthwhile, perhaps we should give it a try."
I agree Mason, we should give it a try.
If you've read this blog you know that those who have contributed to this blog are planning to spend some intentional time together this week in Idaho. I pray that we "give it a try", that as we gather together and reconnect that we don't disguise our love of anti-Sabbath, our pride of busyness in our lists of been dones and to-be-dones. I pray that we find space to live in the presence of God and remember, to remember a God who was so loving that he commanded us to take a day to enjoy him, he'll take care of the busy work.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I can't do it anymore.

Call it exasperation, exhaustion, or quitting. Call it what you have to. But today, I admit, "I can't do it anymore!" This may be a cry for help or a cry for hope, either way it's a confession. As I think about the practice of Sabbath, I can only think in terms of the ideal. I can only think in terms of what could be. The reason I can only think those terms is because Sabbath has not been a real part of my life or faith, maybe ever.
I know what your thinking. "How could you?" and "Tsk, Tsk", and you are right in thinking those things. However, I confess that to you as a part of a larger revelation which is "I can't do it anymore!". I can't keep the pace I have been keeping. As Wendell once said, "You can't keep burning the candle at both ends and coming back for more wax." (I think I got it right). I can't do it all! I feel like Moses, when his father-in-law Jethro visits. Here I am with family in town to visit, and all I have time to do is work. Surely it is justified though, the people need me. Then Jethro speaks up, my momentary guilt is pardoned by the overwhelming sense of relief and hope that his words bring, "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone" (Exodus 18:17-18). This comes after Jethro watches Moses work for 1 day! How many people could have said the same to me, but held their tongue out of "respect"?
So, now that we have that out of the way? What is the start to rectify the situation. Again we can look at Jethro's instruction to Moses. After pointing out to Moses that the work is too much Jethro offers this instruction: "You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave."  WAIT a minute! I thought this story was about Biblical management and the division of labor. You know the whole some were in charge of 10s, others were in charges of 100s, and others still in charge of 1000s. Jethro gets there but the first line of defense is to make apparent the standard of judgment which is the word of God.
So let us follow Jethro's instructions as well, let us be taught the decrees and instructions of God, so that we might know the way to live and how we are to behave. Especially in regards to Sabbath keeping.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lord of the Sabbath and Sabbath Rest

Hebrews 4 talks about the place of "rest" within the community of believers. It begins by pointing out that the community of Israelites that had been redeemed from Egypt were also the same people that did not enter into God's rest. "For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest..." (Heb. 4:2). The author of Hebrews connects Sabbath rest with faith. If we were to stop here we might assume that faith is something we must strive for, which does not sound restful at all. If faith is something that we must build and construct, then salvation is not dependent upon God. Yet, Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is the "author and perfector" of our faith. God "gifts" us faith. It is the message that we have heard and are simply called to respond in obedience to. If we are "working" to earn our salvation then we have not truly entered into the rest which God gives. Furthermore, we have not submitted our lives to the sovereignty of the "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5). If faith and salvation are really by God and from God, then it is not dependent upon us to establish our own faith or salvation. Rather, we are simply called to respond in thanksgiving and obedience to the good news we have received. There is an assurance and confidence that accompanies this type of faith. God is faithful and we can depend upon God's character and nature to see both the initiation and the completion of our faith.

Hebrews sets up the importance of Sabbath for us by reminding us of David's words: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" (4:7). Sabbath rest is about giving ear to hear what God is saying. It is about giving space for God to speak into our lives. But, it cannot be left at that alone. The author of Hebrews understands "hearing" as something more than just "listening." Rather, "to hear is to obey." Our obedience is a sign that we have truly "heard" God speaking. That is to say, Sabbath is primarily about orienting our lives entirely to God's w(W)ord to us. God's word "is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account" (4:12b-13). Sabbath opens up space in our busy, hectic, self-centered lives in order to center our lives on the One who shows us who we truly are. But, God doesn't leave us there if we are willing to "hear." Rather, God transforms us through faith to be "a great cloud of witnesses" whose testimony points to our light and life: Christ Jesus - Lord of the Sabbath.