Sabbath in New York City: Delight

UntitledDelight.

When the original grid for the streets of Manhattan island was first laid out, there were no parks. The grid went all the way from the top to bottom. Central Park was the answer. A huge area of land right in the middle of the city that would be for all the people to escape the concrete jungle. That it wasn’t originally part of the plan illustrates the city’s obsession with productivity instead of healthy human living.

“God, after finishing his work of creation, proclaimed that, ‘it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). God delighted over his creation. The Hebrew phrase communicates a sense of joy, completion, wonder, and play. This is particularly radical in a culture like ours, both secular and Christian, that is ‘delight deficient.'”*

Before I encountered Emotionally Healthy Spirituality the word “delight” was not often in my vocabulary. But when I think about what God intended for sabbath, it’s the perfect word. Six days of work, culminating in a day of delight.

Too often though, our worship of the idol of productivity chokes out any opportunity for delight. It is food for the soul, and without it we are not all that God created us to be. We are not machines that must constantly work until we break down and die. We are not slaves. We are sons and daughters of God, worthy of delight. And a twenty-four hour sabbath filled with delight is a gift from our loving Father.

I have noticed that many Christians in particular can have a hard time seeking delight because of a false sense of guilt in self indulgence. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrificially love others, but it does not call us to not love and care for ourselves. In the Bible Jesus is often at weddings, feasts, and banquets, and I think he had a lot of fun at them! In fact, he was the one who turned the water to wine at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-12). If you need a command, then here it is: God commands you to have fun! 🙂

So what brings you delight? A good place to start with delight is to simply make a list of things that you love. I love mochas. I love skiing. I love the beach. I love writing in my journal. I love hiking. Make a list of the things that you love, and incorporate these things into your life, especially into your sabbath. It’s really that simple.

Delight will be different for everyone. You may be more extroverted and need to be with others. You may be more introverted and need to be by yourself. Find out what delights your soul and do it. God wants this for you – that’s one reason why he gives you 24-hour sabbath. Delight it often the most exciting part of a sabbath that makes it more than just a day off.

A good place to start with delight is in creation. Simply get outside and enjoy this amazing world! Walk through the park, sit by the water, gaze at the stars. After God finished his work of creating the universe, he proclaimed that: “it was very good!” (Genesis 1:31-2:3). In other words, he took delight in his creation.

Living in New York City can be a challenge (it’s the concrete jungle!), but having a set time of sabbath has helps me make sure I enjoy sabbath delight. My sabbath often becomes a day to either explore this amazing human creation of a city, or a day to get out of and delight in God’s creation. Either way, I have a day set aside to focus on the delight that my soul needs.

What brings you delight? Make your list of things you love. Embrace sabbath as a time to delight in the good things of this life that God has graciously given to us. As you incorporate sabbath into your life, do not leave out delight. Otherwise, sabbath could easily become another legalistic spiritual practice instead of something that brings life to your soul.

 

*Scazzero, Peter (2011-05-09). Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ (p. 169). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Advertisements
Sabbath in New York City: Delight

Sabbath In New York City: Contemplate

UntitledContemplate.

You may think, “I already have a ‘quiet time’ (prayer and Bible reading) every morning, so what’s different about sabbath?” Just like human relationships, our relationship with the Lord requires both quality time & quantity time. A daily quiet time (quality time) is a fantastic habit to practice, but ten minutes before work or ten minutes before bed may not be enough for what God has for you. A set apart 24-hour period provides more room be with the Lord and know him more (quantity time).

New York City does nothing to nurture this. There are billboards everywhere – on the windows of businesses, in the subway, on the side of buses, on the top of taxis, inside the taxi on a television screen, on phone booths (yes they still exist) – calling you to contemplate anything but God. There’s simply so much to do! You could eat out every night of your life in New York City for the rest of your life and never eat at the same place twice.* There are countless concerts, benefits, museums, and theaters for you to attend every night. The city provides entertainment and distraction in unending supply, which can easily choke out the voice of God. Church buildings such as 100 year old Good Shepherd (pictured above) are some of the few parts of the city free from hustle and bustle, signs and distraction. Sabbath provides rest and a call to contemplate who is truly important.

Contemplate is the most intuitive element of sabbath, since it’s the “religious” thing to do. In both Jewish and Christian tradition, sabbath includes corporate worship, reading Scripture, prayer, and silence. In sabbath we remember when Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of Eden at creation (Genesis 3:8), and look forward to the wedding feast of the lamb where we will see him face to face without fear (Revelation 22:4). Contemplation is what truly separates sabbath from simply taking a day off.

Practicing a 24-hour period of sabbath focuses your attention on God. I often begin my sabbath with a prayer declaring that this is a sabbath unto the Lord. Orthodox Jews who practice sabbath use the ritual of lighting candles and reciting a sabbath blessing to welcome the special 24-hour period. When we intentionally begin a sabbath day, our perspective will be focused on the Lord. We become more aware, more in tune with what God might be saying to us throughout the day.

Contemplate doesn’t refer to fulfilling an obligation that makes God love or bless us more. Remember grace. God has already done everything necessary through Jesus. And there’s nothing we could ever do to make God love us more or less than he already does. Sabbath simply gives us extended time with the one who loves us most. God’s greatest delight in all of creation is you, for we are created in his very image (Genesis 1:27). Jesus gave his life for us on the cross so that our relationship with him could be restored. Jesus is called Immanuel – God with us. Sabbath gives us an extended time to be with him.

Practicing the principles of sabbath will look different for everyone. For most of us Sunday will be the best day where we can spend extended time with the Lord. However, as a pastor, Sundays are not very restful for me. So, my sabbath is most often on Friday. I often write in my journal, reflecting on my life in the presence of the Lord. I have time to go on a walk in the park and spend time with the Lord in prayer. I also have time to have impromptu discussions with others.

How has God wired you to best connect with him? Each of us connect with the Lord in different ways. Some connect best by being outside in creation, others by rallying others to a just cause in the name of Christ. Perhaps you need to be alone, journal your prayers, or read intellectually stimulating books. Perhaps you need to worship with others, discuss the Bible, or serve others. Spiritual Pathways is a great resource to discover how you connect with the Lord. North Point Community Church has even put together an online test to see which pathway(s) you most fall into. Sabbath provides us an opportunity to do these things – to spend quantity time with our heavenly father.

Here’s why this is so important. God loves you more than you can ever understand. You were created in his very image. In fact, he knew you before you were born, when you were in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He knows the plans he has for your life (Jeremiah 29:11). He died for you. He has given you his very Spirit to live within you. He wants to spend time with you! Not just quality time, but quantity time too. Accept his invitation of sabbath and contemplate.

 

*http://www.omgfacts.com/lists/6434/You-could-eat-out-every-night-of-your-life-in-New-York-City-for-the-rest-of-your-life-and-never-eat-at-the-same-place-twice-ab731-3

Sabbath In New York City: Contemplate

Sabbath in New York City: REST

UntitledRest.

New York City is often called “the city that never sleeps,” and we are addicted to productivity. We say things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Often rest is only seen as just a way to make us more productive later. And it’s true. It’s been proven that if you take more vacation, rest more often, you will be more productive than those who take less vacation and work more hours. Resting actually helps us become more productive. And that’s a good thing. But worshiping productivity, becoming addicted, poisons our rest. If we rest just to be more productive, we’ve lost something. We have lost an aspect of who we are as children of God.

When God first instituted the Sabbath for the Israelite people, they had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Their entire culture and identity was wrapped up in being a slave. Slaves do not get days off. Slaves do not get a vacation. Slaves are not worthy of such things. While God had delivered the people out of slavery, they still had generations of slave culture that had to be broken in a dramatic way. Hence the sabbath – a 24 hour period where you could do no work.

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they worked seven days a week, and were never able to rest. They were treated not like human beings, but machines. The Sabbath is a gift given to humans who have been created in the image of God. Slavery de-humanizes us. But rest identifies us as human beings with inherent value.

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you.13 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

It took the people a while to get it. God even reminds them that they were once slaves in Egypt, but no longer! In modern times, we often treat ourselves like slaves. We worship productiveness every moment of the day. We value multitasking, being in a hurry, and staying connected – because we think it makes us important. But in reality, we become slaves to these things. Our masters become our emails, messages and work responsibilities. Our identity becomes enmeshed with our master, productivity. But the truth is that we can rest from these things not because they are not important, because we are important. We are free children of God, created in the image of our father.

Jesus teaches us that people were not created for the Sabbath – as if God first created a Sabbath and then needed someone to observe it. No, the Sabbath was created for people (Mark 2:27). It is a gift that God has so graciously given us. Must we practice Sabbath? No. Must we rest? No. Must we accept this gift? No. We no longer live under the law, but under grace. Our father does not force rest upon us, but he knows that it is best for us. God may not force rest upon us, but usually our physical bodies will. When we go for long periods without rest, we get sick and are forced to rest. Our bodies often know what is best for us, whether we pay attention or not.

The theology of rest reaches to the heart of the gospel. Because Christ has fulfilled all of the requirements of the law, believers can enter God’s rest. 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 (Hebrews 4:9-10). When we rest, we glorify Jesus as the one who has given us eternal rest.

As I have practiced Sabbath rest, I am able to work hard throughout my week knowing that I have a 24-hour period where I will be able to rest. It am also reminded me that I need to take small breaks and rest each day. I need to take my lunch break. I need to take 15 minute breaks and rest my mind as I work. I value sleep more. Sleep is not worthless down time. I am obligated to get a good night’s sleep. I am obligated to take a nap if I need one.

Remember, that you were once a slave to productivity, in order to gain righteousness from God, yourself or others. But the Lord your God freed you by the power of the cross. You are not a machine. You are not a slave. You are a child of the king. Rest.

Sabbath in New York City: REST

Sabbath in New York City: STOP

UntitledStop. You think that this would be easy, intuitive even. But it’s not, especially when our culture worships the idol of productivity.

New York does not stop. It’s the “city that never sleeps.” It literally takes an act of God – heat waves, hurricane Irene, hurricane Sandy, winter storm Juno, etc. Whether working to survive or in pursuit of one’s dreams, New Yorkers have a hard time stopping their work. And if that wasn’t enough, there is an unending list of tasks calling for our attention.

Emails, text messages and, increasingly the cursed app notification. In a journey to find relief from our modern, always-connected life, Paul Miller or theverge.com left the internet for a year (you can read about his experience here). During his journey, he interviewed Douglas Rushkoff about “Present Shock,” the affect of always-connected technology on our lives. Our obsession with the now creates loops that, on some unconscious level, our brains compel us to complete. For example, the red circle on the top right corner of an app. The un-replied email. The unanswered text message. When you see a notification, your brain creates the beginning of a loop that can only be completed by responding to said notification. Rushkoff encourages us to occasionally “pause” from the digital so that we conform technology to our schedule instead of vice versa.

But if the digital weren’t enough to constantly keep up with, the “analog” laundry is never finished, the dishes are never done, the house is never complete. There’s always something to be done – more the be created, existing to be perfected, and further out to be planned. In the midst of all this, culture quietly screams: be more productive. To stop is only to prepare to be more productive. Maximize all of your time and energy while at the same time staying on top of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, text messages, etc.

Sabbath means stop.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:1-3

The creator was more productive in seven days than is humanly conceivable (regardless of whether one believes in literal or figurative days). Science, math and very the laws of reality were all brought forth from him. Simply the amount of matter created is beyond what we can barely imagine. To begin to get an idea of what we are talking about, spend a moment contemplating the ultra-tiny and the ultra-big at scaleoftheuniverse.com. After all this, God stopped. THIS God could have created a trillion other universes, a trillion other dimensions and a trillion other realities. Maybe he did! Yet he stopped. God is un-limited, yet he stopped.

Here is the truth that sabbath teaches us: we are not God. We are limited. When we take time to stop from our labor, we are reminded that we are not God. We embrace our limits. Stopping confronts the question of trust: Will we trust that the infinite, all-powerful God will take care of us and our concerns when we keep the Sabbath? To never stop is to produce in ourselves a god-complex. In so doing, we shackle ourselves to an impossible standard. We cannot stop, for we are god. Recently at a church leader’s conference, Pete Scazarro was introduced as a “busy guy,” but he quickly corrected that he is not busy. He is limited. This is a true perspective of our lives. We are limited.

Jesus fully embraced his limits. Part of the miracle of the incarnation was that Jesus (the Creator, the un-limited) became limited. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16). After his grandest miracle of feeding over 5000 people with almost nothing, Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23). There were always more people to be healed or taught. But Jesus embraced his limits and often stopped doing ministry. He knew that his central ministry would be his work on the cross. As his disciples, we also must trust in the cross of Christ, not our own efforts.

The first challenge of Sabbath is to stop for a 24-hour period. My advice is not to “try out” a few hours or even half a day. Pick a full 24 hour period to stop from your work. Smaller periods of stopping throughout each day are good, but stopping for a full 24 hours is a completely different experience.

As I said, we live in a culture that worships productivity. In fact, I would even say we are addicted to productivity. And like any addiction, you must chose to stop. It will be difficult. It will take time. It will take hard work. There will be withdrawals. But it will be worth it. Perhaps your first step should be to stop using technology for a full 24 hours.

As I have practiced stopping on my Sabbath, it has been extremely freeing. I will often be reminded of something I failed to plan or complete in my work or personal life. But since I have decided to stop on my Sabbath, I give myself permission to not worry about it. I know that I will get to it another day. Obviously more pressing things can come up that need to be dealt with, but 95% of the time it can wait. I often have to remind myself that it is not that important, and in the grand scheme of things it never is. I do not have to get back to that email, text message, or notification. I am free to let the loop can go un-completed for a day.

I am actually obligated to stop. I am not God. I am limited. I am trusting in the one who is un-limited. And by stopping, I am free to rest, delight and contemplate.

Sabbath in New York City: STOP

Sabbath in New York City

Untitled New York is non-stop. It’s not an easy place to live. I keep hearing from people that since they’ve moved to the city, they’ve faced new physical ailments. And not just allergies. My view could be skewed a bit, because a majority of the transplants I know are Christians who are living on mission for Jesus, therefore the enemy could be attacking them at a higher proportion. But even without the attacks of the evil one, New York is a difficult place to live. It really is non-stop. Something is always going on. You have to walk everywhere in the elements. That fact alone makes New York a difference physical experience from most places in America where the only real walking we do is from a building to a car or walking in a shopping mall. Everything is more complicated. I live in a 5th floor walkup, so when I leave my apartment, I’d better be sure I have everything I need for the day, or it will cost me 88 steps. Most people don’t have central heating and air. We have these things called radiators in the winter and window units for only the essential rooms that need to be cool during the summer. Most people use public transportation (which can at any moment become stressful), and the rest drive in one of the most congested places in America – not a stress-free experience.

But beyond all that, there is a relentless pervasive push towards productivity in New York City. This is the city where dreams are made of, so get to it and pursue your dreams! Don’t waste your time. So many young professionals move to the city to work themselves to death for a maximum of seven years before moving somewhere else. So many artists move here to work 40 hours a week so they can work another 30-40 in pursuit of their real passion. Then there are the swaths (it’s such a large portion of NYC that it’s often hard to comprehend) of working poor working multiple jobs 60+ hours a week to provide for their families. All I’m saying is: it never stops. The city does sleep. But when you’re awake, there’s that pervasive pressure to achieve, to produce, to provide. It never stops. More than most places, work/achievement/productivity, is an idol in New York City.

Everyday Church is doing our part to fight this with annual all-church retreats focused on rest. We believe that rest, and specifically Sabbath, is so counter-cultural to our city, that we must spend extended time focusing on it. Throughout the 2-day retreat, we focused on the four elements of Sabbath: stop, rest, delight, and contemplate (the four elements are not original with me – they come from Pete Scazzero at New Life Church in Queens, NYC).

As I have incorporated  sabbath-keeping into my life in the past year or so, I’ve discovered is that Sabbath is a choice. More than anything else, it’s a choice. Unless we decide to stop, rest, contemplate and delight, we won’t. Our entire culture is against us. But even in the Old Testament, God had to make it a commandment (the longest and most specific commandment of the famous ten) for the people to follow it. While it is no longer a commandment for the salvation of the Christian, we do a lousy job of accepting the gift of sabbath from the Lord.

The worst thing about sabbath-keeping is that most pastors, don’t practice it. There’s an ugly belief out there that the pastor never really gets a day off. That was definitely the experience in my home as the son of a pastor. This is the most backwards thinking. We think that because the pastor serves the people, that his/her work is never done. Well, in reality work, period, is never done. No matter what you do for your profession, there is always more to do, more to improve, more to innovate. In church planting the pressure to be a successful pastor of a growing church never ends.

Now, I’m not saying that as disciples of Jesus that we are required to practice Sabbath. The Lord of the sabbath himself (Jesus) said: “the sabbath was created for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Satan twists this truth to tell us that the sabbath is a legalistic practice from the Old Testament that should be completely thrown out. Instead, we should embrace the life-giving principles of sabbath, all the while remembering that it is only by God’s grace that we are saved (not by our sabbath-keeping). I think it’s ironic that we are able to reconcile the old testament practice of tithing (not even in the 10 Commandments) to the new covenant, but believe the lie that sabbath is worthless.

Practicing sabbath breaks these lies, and can enrich our relationship with Jesus. Sabbath declares that we are not God – even if we stop working, the world and everything we care about will keep going without us (Stop). Sabbath declares that we are not machines – we are human beings (Rest). Sabbath declares that we gain our worth not from what we do – we are children of God, free to delight in all that he has created (Delight). Sabbath declares what truly matters – an eternal God who is worthy of our undivided attention (Contemplate). This is Sabbath.

I dream about a church that is known by their value of sabbath compared to the insecure need to be productive in New York City. People will ask about what kind of God this is that loves us so much – a God who doesn’t judge us based on our productivity or our sabbath-keeping.

Sabbath in New York City