“Everything belongs and everything can be received.
I have a confession to make.
I got a little two wrapped up in the news this week and now I'm grumpy. To be honest, this happens more often than I like to admit. It's not even the news itself (whether its good or bad) that makes me grumpy. It's usually my inner dialogue about who's right and who's wrong and how I wish everyone would just see the world the same way I do. I stress myself out over the potential for conflict and my own need to be right.
In his book, Everything Belongs, Father Richard Rohr reminds us that one of the best ways to deepen your relationship with God is to accept things as they are, both outside and within yourself. Not to fight them, but to accept them.
I think most of us struggle to accept things as they are. We fight against our own imperfections. We battle our insecurities. We rage against those who disagree with us. We struggle to make the world into what we want it to be.
And in the process, we tie our souls up in knots and sometimes lose our grip on "the peace that passes understanding." In times like this, when I've gotten a little too caught up in the fight, I've found the prayer below (written by another great Catholic, the late Father Thomas Keating) a helpful reminder of God's sovereignty and peace. I pray it may be the same for you.
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it's for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God's action within. Amen
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
It seems that God is not particularly concerned with our outward expressions of worship, at least not as much as he is with our mercy toward others and inward acknowledgement of his lordship. For those of us well-versed in church-ism, this should give us pause to think.
But what does it really mean to "acknowledge God"? I mean, the mercy part feels obvious—engaging in ministries of compassion and justice, caring for the poor, intentionally fostering an attitude of non-judgmental acceptance of people—but how do we acknowledge God?
I think gratitude and prayer play a significant part. Acknowledging God involves recognizing in our hearts and minds that everything of real value that we have comes from him. It's all grace. It's all a gift. This recognition leads to a deep sense of gratitude. It also leads to true humility, to not taking credit away from God for the successes in our lives. It's a recognition that we are--none of us--the captains of our own souls.
While this is humbling—and maybe even humiliating—it is, in the end, freeing. This is what God wants for you: freedom. And it comes through mercy and acknowledging that God is God and you are not.
God of grace, I acknowledge you in this moment.
Every success, every moment of productivity and inspiration,
indeed every breath — it all comes from you.
I confess that I am often blinded by self-importance
and ask for your grace to see the world (and my self)
as it really is and to engage it in a spirit of mercy and grace.
“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him
The time is near.
John, the human author of Revelation, scribbled these words on parchment in 95 A.D. It's now 2019. In the intervening years, the world has seen wars, plagues, the rise and fall of empires, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. And with every generation there have been people in the Christian church assuring the world, "No really, the time really is near." Sometimes these people are scholars. Sometimes they are street preachers. But they are always there. They have always been there, in every generation, every time, every place. And yet, here we are 1,924 years later...
Was John wrong? Or did all these people after him just misunderstand him?
Well, the short answer is yes. John was wrong.
And no. He wasn't.
Yes, John was wrong because it's likely that he honestly believed that "the time is near" meant that Jesus was going to return during his lifetime, or at least during the lifetimes of his followers in Asia Minor. This belief is why he wrote with such urgency and its what gave the original recipients of Revelation the courage and conviction to stand up for Jesus and face the social and economic repercussions of their faith. Their belief, though it turned out to be chronologically inaccurate, led them to a faithful response to the word of God.
These original hearers of Revelation are like the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11: "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised." (Heb. 11:39, NIV)
At the same time, I think it's also accurate to say that John and his followers were not wrong at all, nor were those who proclaimed "the end is near" from the 2nd Century up until the 21st. Because the actual point of John's claim of the nearness of the end is proximity not chronology.
We're always near the end, whether it comes tomorrow or 3,000 years from now.
Jesus himself recognized this and often said, "The kingdom of heaven is near."
It's like the Doomsday Clock, the symbol used by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to "warn the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making" (thebulletin.org). During the Clock's existence, it has never been ore than 17 minutes to midnight. As of 2019, it is 2 minutes to midnight.
The nearness of Jesus' return is like the Doomsday clock: it is always near midnight, and we should always be prepared for it. The fact that we didn't wipe ourselves out during the Cold War doesn't mean that it didn't nearly happen. In the same way, the fact that Jesus didn't return in the last 1900 years doesn't mean that his return wasn't immanent that entire time.
So the question we're left with is the same one that John's original readers were given: what will you do with the time you have? What will you do in preparation for Jesus' immanent return?
Because the time is near.
“What makes a Sabbath a biblical Sabbath is that it is ‘holy to the lord.’
The most significant difference between a biblical Sabbath and a traditional “day off” is the focus on God. This doesn’t mean that we have to spend the entire day praying or studying the Bible, but it does invite us to be intentional about contemplating the love and glory of God.
Poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Psalm 19 puts it this way:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.”
(Psalms 19:1–6 NIV)
Tomorrow we officially end our “Sanctuary Sabbath Month.” In some ways, that means rhythms will return to some degree of normalcy. But my hope is that we take what we have learned and experienced about Sabbath this month and incorporate it into our weekly schedules for the rest of the year.
“After finishing his work in creation, God pronounced it ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). This was not an anemic afterthought--Oh, well, it’s nice to be done with that—but a joyful recognition and celebration of accomplishment. As part of observing Sabbath, God invites us to join in the celebration, to enjoy and delight in his creation and all the gifts he offers us in it.”
Our practice of Sabbath is built upon God’s practice of Sabbath in Genesis 1-2. Because God—who never gets tired, never needs to sleep, and is never overwhelmed by the stresses of life—rested, we too rest. But not only do we rest because He rests, we also are to rest in the way He rests.
God’s practice of Sabbath included practicing delight. He looked around at the world He had created and celebrated the goodness of a job well done. This can also characterize our practice of Sabbath.
All of these questions can help you to turn your “day off” into a true biblical Sabbath, a twenty-four-hour block of time in which you stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight, and contemplate God.
“God rested after his work of creation. Every seventh day, we are to do the same (Genesis 2:1-4). We engage in activities that restore and replenish us – from napping, hiking, reading, and eating good food to enjoying hobbies and playing sports. The key is to rest from both paid and unpaid work.”
Last week, we looked at what it means to stop working, to take a break from both paid and unpaid work. This week, we’re looking at the second Sabbath practice: enjoy rest.
One thing that I have found particularly helpful is to keep an ongoing list of things that help me to feel rested and restored. I’ve found that what helps me in one season of life sometimes changes in another season.
These days, I have found outside activities to be restful: hiking, biking, swimming, or going for a walk. Something that has been on my list for years has been reading a good book.
I’ve often been surprised at how much intentionality it takes to figure out what helps me to rest. If I’m not intentional, I spend my whole Sabbath watching TV or browsing social media (neither of which usually leave me feeling rested).
So the invitation this week is to begin to define your “will” and “will not” list for Sabbath-keeping. What will make Sabbath different from business as usual on the other six days of the week? What do you need to do (or not do) to protect your ability to rest on this day? What will leave you feeling rested?
“Sabbath is first and foremost a day when we cease all work – paid and unpaid. On the Sabbath we embrace our limits. We let go of the illusion that we are indispensable to the running of the world. We recognize we will never finish all our goals and projects, and that God is on the throne, managing quite well in ruling the universe without our help.”
Most people take a day off. It may not be the same day every week, but employers (and possibly federal law?) usually require some sort of break so that people can rest and return to work with renewed energy.
But a day off is not the same thing as a Sabbath. You see, most people work on their day off. They may not go into the office or turn in a time-card, but their activity can still be classified as work. Household chores, paying bills, reading emails—all these things are work; the only difference is we don’t get paid for them.
When God instituted Sabbath, he didn’t do it so that we’d have extra time to get caught up on chores. He did it so that we would actually stop working and truly rest. The ancient Jews understood this (even if they didn’t always practice it); the rabbis even created all sorts of rules to make sure no one was working, to the point that Jesus and his disciples got in trouble for breaking them!
But choosing to honor the Sabbath by not engaging in any work—paid or unpaid—doesn’t have to be a legalistic thing. In fact, it can and should be a life-giving thing, a practice that reminds you of who you are in the cosmos. You’re a human being, not a human doing!
The invitation this week is to begin to identify a 24-hour block of time in which you’ll do no work, paid or unpaid. If this seems too hard, start with a smaller segment of time (4, 6, or 8 hours) and work up incrementally to a full day.
Also, I encourage you to take a moment to identify the unpaid work you usually attend to on your day off and figure out a time to do it during the week.
In the following posts, we’ll look at ways to enjoy Sabbath and get the most out of it. But before we can do that, we first have to schedule a time for Sabbath and actually stop working.
Sabbath doesn’t just happen on its own. We have to plan for it and protect it. If it was easy or came naturally, God wouldn’t have had to command it throughout Scripture. But I assure you, it’s worth it.
“Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come…. The essence of the world to come is Sabbath eternal, and the seventh day in time is an example of eternity.”
Hebrews 4:9-11 says:
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest...” (NIV11)
The idea of Sabbath is introduced in Genesis 2 and the theme continues to be address throughout the Scriptures, all the way to Revelation. "Honoring the Sabbath" is included as one of the Ten Commandments, alongside worshiping God alone and not murdering people. But few Christians make the practice of Sabbath (a 24 hour period of rest and worship) a key part of their lives.
The truth of Rabbi Heschel’s statement above is important for us to contemplate. Sabbath is not merely about taking a day off so that we don’t get too tired. It’s about practicing for eternity. The author of Hebrews' description of “a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” makes it clear that our practice of Sabbath today is directly connected to our eternal practice of Sabbath-rest in the next life. If we don't learn how to enjoy resting in this life, we may have difficulty resting in the next one.
In his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, author and pastor Peter Scazzero describes four foundational characteristics of a healthy and biblical Sabbath:
In August’s weekly emails/blog posts, we’ll be exploring each of these four Sabbath practices in turn and looking at how we might grow in our practice of Sabbath, both individually and corporately.
I hope that you’ll take some time this month to slow down, to stop working, to rest, to delight, and to contemplate God. Sabbath is a gift that God has given to us, and we invariably suffer when we reject the gift. When we practice Sabbath, we rejoice in the reality that in Jesus Christ, eternity has entered our present experience.
In last Sunday's sermon, I talked about the importance of good Bible study methods, particularly when it comes to interpreting difficult passages like Titus 2:1-10. For those who expressed interest in having these principles written down, I've included them below.
Bible study methods – or hermeneutics – is the set of guidelines that help us get from the ancient text of the Bible to how it can be applied to our lives. When we faithfully follow good hermeneutical principles, it helps us to not only understand what the Bible says but also how it should impact our lives. Good hermeneutics also provides protection against the sort of grievous interpretive errors that have often lead to damaged lives and the rejection of the gospel message by those outside the church.
Many years ago, I learned a four-step method of studying the Bible that has served me well, and which I believe anyone can do, regardless of their level of Biblical knowledge.
The four steps are observation, interpretation, principlization, and application.
Observation is the place where all good Bible study should start. In this first step, we ask ourselves, "What does the text say?" Observation is all about trying to get your mind around the meaning of the words and sentence structure. You might find it helpful to do a sentence diagram of the passage or look up any words you don't know in a dictionary (theological dictionaries can also be helpful for understanding when and how certain words are used differently in Scripture). Blueletterbible.org is a free online tool that some people find helpful in this stage of study.
The second step, interpretation, is about asking the question, "What does the text mean?" In particular, the goal of interpretation is to try to understand how the original audience (the people to whom the passage was originally written) would have heard the message. A few more good interpretive questions to ask:
The third step, and the one most often overlooked, is principlization. Before jumping to application, it's important to ask, "What is the persevering principle that under-girds this text? What is the timeless and transferable truth?" Many Bible texts contain examples that are bound by the time, location, and culture to which they were written. Without the key step of drawing out the principles presented, it's easy to mistakenly apply ancient cultural norms rather than timeless Biblical truth.
Finally, once the interpretive work has been done and principles have been identified, it's time for application. Application asks the question, "How should I then live?" The earlier steps have shown how the principle was to be applied to the original audience; the final step of Bible study is determining how the principles taught by the Scriptures can be lived out my modern readers.
Theologians sometimes talk about the "perspicuity of Scripture," meaning that the Bible is clear and understandable to the average person. I believe this is true. AND I believe that the Bible is most clear and understandable when we're willing to do the work to understand it rightly using good hermeneutical principles.