Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trueblood on the Sabbath

In Foundations for Reconstruction (1946), in Chapter 4, "Freedom From the Angelic Fallacy," Elton Trueblood suggests that one of Protestantism's worst mistakes in strategy has been to minimize church attendance. While it is a half-truth that "[n]o external ceremonies are necessary," it is also true that "many [external ceremonies] are extremely helpful" (49). Trueblood earlier observed that one of the chief reasons why the southern kingdom in Israel survived whereas the northern kingdom was never revived after its fall, was the emphasis that Ezekiel and other prophets like him in the southern kingdom placed on the Sabbath. Observance of the Sabbath was one of the major instruments of cultural survival. "Once each week the people stood up to be counted in their alien environment and, though the weaklings naturally fell away, the faithful were consequently strengthened" (42). "The point is that the institution of Sabbath congregational worship saved a precious heritage from extinction" (43). "Mere individual religion does fairly well in prosperity, but something stronger is needed in a genuine crisis" (43). Alas, we are men and not angels or saints incapable of lapses. "The fundamental reason why men need the ministrations of the church is that human life, left to itself, has a natural bias toward evil, a bias which is abundantly demonstrated by the fact that our most ideally constructed communities are tainted with the struggle for prestige and personal power" (47). Theologically, this would most accurately be termed total (and inherited) depravity. "External helps are important, not for their own sake, but precisely because they are helpful in leading frail and forgetful humans into what may truly become a religion of reality" (49). "The error of the devotee of individual religion lies not...in his criticism of those inside the churches, which is correct, but in his implied flattery of those outside the churches, which is erroneous. The awful truth is that the sinners are quite as bad as the saints, and sometimes worse" (48). One of the insights to be gained from Trueblood's reflections on the fourth commandment is the importance of both individual and corporate worship. Christians are not intended to be lone rangers. We are, in the words of Stanley Grenz, "created for community."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mistaking Sabbath Rest as Optional

Robert Sherman warns against two misunderstandings of Sabbath. Sabbitarianism mistakenly makes the Sabbath itself the object of our allegiance, rather than our subordination to God. This is not the mistake with which I personally struggle. The other mistake is to lose a sense of subordination altogether. Sabbath is not optional; it is a commandment, an obligation. Ouch! This IS where I struggle. "True Sabbath rest is not realized unless it is oriented, indeed, guided to its proper end." Jesus does offer rest, but that rest is not aimless free time. "Sabbath rest is not only a gracious gift, but also a form of discipleship, that is, training in communion." Observing Sabbath rest assists us, perhaps even humbles us, to acknowledge that whatever time we have been given is originally and ultimately God's time and not merely our own. I am afraid that I have too often viewed Sabbath rest as optional. In the words of Dorothy Bass, "we had become so captivated by our work, so impressed by its demands on us and our own indispensability, that [the Sabbath commandment] had simply vanished from our consciousness." This reminds me that first we form our habits, and then our habits form us.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Calvin and Sabbath

In "Reclaimed by Sabbath Rest," Robert Sherman reviews John Calvin's understanding of the Fourth Commandment. Calvin begins, "The purpose of this commandment is that, being dead to our own inclinations and work, we should meditate on the Kingdom of God, and that we should practice that meditation in the ways established by him." See Isaiah 58:13. First, Sabbath obedience is a spirit of letting go - one must lay aside their own interests and pursuits. In Calvin's words, to obtain true spiritual rest "believers ought to lay aside their own works to allow God to work in them."

Second, the expectation that Christians worship together regularly on an appointed day must never be viewed as an end in itself. No particular day is holy in itself. At times when it is not possible to worship on the appointed day, one may still meditate on God's works and so fulfill the commandment. "God's purpose in establishing Sabbath observance was not due to any intrinsic sacredness in the seventh day, but only to provide humanity a regular day of worship, that good order and harmony might be promoted."

Third, God intends the Sabbath to be a day of rest for laborers and servants. "Sabbath observance consists primarily in a spiritual attitude, a posture of piety that, ideally, defines our daily meditations and shapes the whole of our lives...Sabbath observance is not a task to undertake, but rather a sign of God's grace and communion with us, and a foretast of our own true fulfillment. It should be characterized by joy and gratitude."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Grandson and Sabbath

My grandson Kendrick is taking his morning nap as I write this entry. My daughter is working at the Farmers Market in OKC on Wednesdays this summer while her husband, Rhea, is in predeployment training out of state. I have the opportunity to watch my grandson all day today now that I have a more flexible schedule after the completion of the spring semester. My daughter asked me this morning if I was finished with my grading, and I said, "why do you ask?" She said, "you seem so much more relaxed." I actually finished my grading and turned in final grades two days before the deadline today. (Last year I was about two days late).

An article entitled, "Reclaimed by Sabbath Rest" by Robert Sherman has me thinking about rhythms and patterns. Like the academic year. Like Kendrick's morning nap. Like summer break. Sherman notes that "we live in multiple calendars simultaneously, compartmentalizing and juggling the differing rhythms as everyday life demands." To properly use the time we are given in a wise way, the time we spend must be "informed by, and aligned with, God's purposes." One of the insights I gained from Sherman is that setting aside regular time to spend with my grandson is a form of sabbath for me. It is a wise and good rhythm in my life. Sabbath is time set aside not only for communion with God, but also communion with one another. "Sabbath was indeed made for humanity, as a gift and blessing of time for rest and refreshment, for joyful communion with God, one another, and all creation." Another insight is that sabbath is "a repentant emptying of the self-centered self." When we set aside time for "joyous communion with family and neighbors" we are acting on our allegiance to the Lord of the Sabbath - this reminds me that sabbath rest "is not simply aimless 'free time.'" Every adult needs a child in their life, because this is one of the most effective ways for adults to learn! Thank you Kendrick and Shea for helping me to experience and understand sabbath better! And thank you Jeremy for sending me a bibliography so I could more easily find resources to study about sabbath.

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
From the laziness that is content with half-truths,
From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth,
O God of truth deliver us!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sabbath time with Spaghetti and Soup!

We had a couple hours of delightful shared conversation and fellowship - over a meal including pasta, salad, bread, and soup!

Missed 2 of our members - but thankful for shared time to reflect on life.

For each of us - it is the "end of the semester" which brings certain patterns of our lives to a conclusion. And yet, our lives continue on in many "busy" ways.

One continues to learn what it means to parent - one gets married next week - several of us continue in establishing the good sabbath patterns we have started - and we had time to reflect on how that is changing us - and our spouses/kids in the process.

Great time!

Blessed to be a blessing.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Contemplative Pastor

I really enjoyed reading this book. More than that though, it was challening reading Peterson's understanding of pastoral ministry. I found myself wrestling with the tensions that he describes. How do we fulfill our vocational calling while treating those we minister to with Gospel dignity. That is a difficult tightrope to walk at times. I especially like the distinction that Peterson makes in outling pastoral vocation as unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic. Unbusy indicates that pastors are not bogged down by "running" a church. Although administration is part and parcel of our "job" as pastors, that is not what we are called to "be." Being unbusy means that we are unrushed. It is not a "works-based" righteousness. It is important that we embody that in our ministry. It is about being saturated in prayer and Scripture. The Spirit, not the calendar, directs our lives. We are not called to be important (we usually show our importance by how much stuff we do). It is a vanity that says the Church cannot survive without my effort. Being unbusy is a resting in God's work in the Church and that we are called to "be" not "do." Furthermore, we are called to be subversive. We oppose the culture and what it deems we are to be as pastors and as people. It means that the kingdom of self is replaced by the Kingdom of God in our lives and in the lives of our congregations. It is looking for the Kingdom that is even now burgeoning in our lives. And, it is allowing our wills to be subsumed by that Kingdom so that we are partners with God's re-creational work in the world. Finally, pastors are apocalyptic. This is not end-of-the-world proclamations aimed at our people. Rather, the apocalyptic pastor is one who prays, perseveres, and uses language poetically (as a "maker"). We are truth tellers that are shaped by the Word and employ words to shape the world. It is a confidence that God's work in the world is already happening and will come to fruition and completion in the fullness of time. Sabbath helps us "cease" so that we are fully present, able to listen, and focused upon what God is doing rather than on what we are doing to bring God's Kingdom about.

For me, it has been a struggle to stop. I don't do it very well. This has been especially true with finishing school, keeping up with ministry, and finishing wedding and honeymoon plans. There's so much to be accomplished and it seems there is so little time to accomplish it in. Plus, I feel important when I have responsibilities that I am able to juggle. It shows competence and skill. But, too often it denigrates into building my kingdom rather than seeking to build God's Kingdom. It is an exercise in ego. And, although I cannot neglect all of these activities and goals, it is important that I realize what is truly valuable and important in this life. It is vital that I remember that I am valued because of who I am in Christ, not what I accomplish in life. It doesn't eliminate all of the tasks that must be finished, but it does prioritize them. Sabbath is helping me remember this and re-evaluate my life in light of those facts.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Crisis Moments and Sabbath

I recognized the sad tone in my mother's voice when she called last week - it had to be bad news - someone had died. She called to inform me that my niece's husband, age 38, was killed in a motorcycle accident. He leaves behind a devoted wife and two teenagers. I missed two days of the last week of classes to drive to the funeral in Conroe, Texas. The Monday before, my sister-in-law, had a double mastectomy. The day I was leaving for Texas, my sister's father-in-law passed away. Legal and theological questions and family related issues have abounded. These crisis moments, combined with my lack of energy and motivation, reminded me how important it is to have margins in my life, that is, regular sabbath times of renewal. In the midst of all this, my daughter and I have built a small raised garden bed, about 4 feet x 4 feet square. We have planted strawberry plants, pepper plants, squash, and broccoli. The hot, dry weather almost did them in while I was gone to Texas. None of my family members remembered to water them while I was gone to Texas. When I got home, they looked pretty sad: wilted and fallen over. Kinda like I felt after 16-17 hours being on the road for two days. I watered them hoping for the best and lo and behold, they looked great the next day: perky and standing straight. Death is mostly an unwelcome reminder of the fragility of life in this fallen world. But it has caused me to slow down and be more involved with my loved ones and to tell them how much I love them. "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee. You alone are my heart's desire and I long to worhsip thee." Oh Lord, that you might make it so in my life!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Being intentional - takes intentionality!

Being intentional about Sabbath - takes focused attention and intention.

I have been accomplishing much recently - lots going on. I have been feeling great about all the "things" I've been getting done - the "boxes" getting "checked-off" on my checklist!

And, in the midst of it, I have realized that my sense of Sabbath time . . . and my practical sabbath keeping - has disappeared! How easy it has been to get caught up in the stuff of life, work, preaching, teaching, caring for people - that I've missed out on stopping.

I need to stop this.

I need to stop.

I need to be intentional about making Sabbath time a priority.

~ marty