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.

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Sabbath in New York City: REST

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

Finding contentment in following God

Contentment is hard to come by in a culture that pursues only momentary happiness. On the other hand, religion often guilts us into thinking that we’ve screwed up our lives too much for God to use us for anything. Neither sorrowful humility nor the pursuit of happiness will bring us contentment. Contentment comes when we follow God wherever he leads. Listen to my entire message below as I flesh these ideas out.

Articles mentioned:
The History of Happiness
Mike Rowe

Finding contentment in following God

Zero Equals One Hundred Percent

“Jesus found zero self-worth in what he did on earth, but he gave 100% of himself in all he did.”

zeroisonehundredMy friend Mike and I get together often to pray for one another, and it seems like every time, he says a phrase that is gold. Recently I was sharing about my struggle with finding self worth in my work. Then he laid down this insight that drives him insane about Jesus.

How in the world did Jesus do that? How do you give yourself whole-heartedly to something without finding some sense of worth in it? Is it possible to give your heart to something or to someone, but to not find your self worth in it or them? I suppose that is the mystery of Christian marriage – we give ourselves wholly to someone else, but still find our self worth in Christ. Spouses die. Spouses sin. Either way, it’s hard to wrap my mind around.

Thinking of this concept helps me understand (a little) how Jesus was able to gather crowds of thousands of followers, and then send them away. When he fed the 5000 who wanted to crown him king at the moment, he sent them away so that he could spend the evening in prayer. When the crowd came back the next day, Jesus used the most profuse language (eat my flesh and drink my blood) to make sure the crowd would never return. Granted they were primarily following Jesus because he fed them, but sheesh! What would make a person do that?

There’s something about Jesus’ relationship with the father that trumped everything.

I sometimes struggle with finding my self worth in my job. I don’t find a whole lot of worth in necessarily being pastor. But I have a deep desire to be seen as a leader, as a team-builder, as an entrepreneur. I honestly have the faces of a few people that I look up to in my head. I often contemplate what they think of me, what they see in me, what value they place on me as a pastor. For the past few months I’ve been doing some counseling, and I’ve come to realize the power of how I think others view my success in my job. It has become an idol in my life. It’s not bad to want success or recognition. It’s not a sin to want others to have a positive view of me. It’s when I elevate those opinions (or even my perception of those opinions) above those of my heavenly father.

Jesus found his self worth in his father. I believe this understanding gave him extraordinary boldness in his teaching and his actions. In the gospels, you never see Jesus becoming frustrated with what he’s doing. He is often frustrated with the crowds, the religious leaders and his disciples, but never in himself. He did the father’s will. He knew who he was. He knew what he was saying was true. That could come off as arrogant I suppose. But for Jesus it was certainty. He didn’t need to worry about what other people thought of him. He didn’t need to even worry about whether other people would follow him or not! He was completely secure in his identity.

I would think that such security, boldness, self-assurance would make Jesus the most successful person ever. Instead he was crucified!

Jesus really doesn’t make sense sometimes. No really. Jesus does not compute. He was completely and utterly secure, so he let himself be murdered?!?

Alright, let’s look at the other side of the quote. Jesus gave all of himself in everything he did. I want this. Whatever I do, I want to pour myself into it. I don’t think most people like to half-do anything. We want to find something so worthwhile that we’d almost die for it. Sometimes we say that we would. Jesus did! I just can’t understand how you avoid finding your self-worth in something that you pour your soul into. Is there a switch that I haven’t pulled yet, because that really comes naturally to me.

I think Jesus was able to give himself completely to whatever he did without finding his self worth in it, because he found his self worth completely in his Father. There’s no new revelation there, and you’ve probably heard the importance of Jesus’ relationship with the Father before. But what I want to highlight is that he received his self worth completely from his Father. If I’m honest, I often find mine in family, hobbies, my job, my friends…as well as in God. Jesus didn’t find part of his self worth in more than one place.

One point of reference gave Jesus the ability to give himself completely in what he did.

Zero Equals One Hundred Percent

Fully Alive, Utterly Secure, Completely Fulfilled

In September 2012, Karen King at Harvad Divinity School showcased an ancient manuscript (from the second century A.D.) that mentions Jesus speaking about “my wife.” The manuscript does not prove anything about the real, historical Jesus (you can check out the story here), but its coverage in the media brings up an important element as we think about western culture. Jesus’ singleness is a difficult reality for us to grasp. According to Scripture, Jesus was without sin, and he never married. Therefore, Christians believe that he never had sex. In western culture, sex is deeply entrenched in how we find value as individuals. I remember a conversation with some of my non-Christian friends where it came up that I was a virgin (I was 27 at the time). One friend was completely taken aback. She could hardly believe it, asking multiple times to clarify.

Jesus was a virgin. This fact reveals a truth that we are too often unable to accept: Sex says nothing about your worth or value. Even as a virgin, Jesus was fully alive, utterly secure, completely fulfilled as a human being.

I remember one of the chapel speakers when I was at Ozark Christian College. He was a pastor probably in his 50s who had suddenly lost his wife and was left to raise his family by himself. He was now alone with sexual desires that he didn’t know how to face. His comfort was that his Lord (Jesus Christ) went without sex and was completely fulfilled and productive in his life and ministry. This is something that can be quite alien to those who don’t call Christ Lord.

I guess you could say: Jesus was fulfilled sexually…without having sex.

I’ll say it again: Even as a virgin, Jesus was fully alive, utterly secure, completely fulfilled as a human being.

Fully Alive, Utterly Secure, Completely Fulfilled

The Language of Spiritual Balance

Live like Jesus.

I never realized it before, but every church has their own way of saying the same thing about spiritual balance – living like Jesus. When I started making a list, I was shocked!

Up, In, Out (3DM)
With Jesus, In Community, On Mission (Southland Christian)
Trust God, Love People, Serve the World (Forefront NYC)
Faith, Love, Hope (Mosaic CA)
Celebrate, Connect, Contribute (Community Christian)
Discover, Connect, Serve (Trader’s Point Christian)
Love God, Love People (many churches)UpInOutTriangle
Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk humbly (Micah 6:8)

Every church is saying the same thing. They just use different language. I like to think of each aspect as a relationship. The key is finding the right balance in all three.

We must constantly ask of our church, our ministry, and our lives: “Which relationship needs attention?” We will always have seasons where we need  to focus on one relationship over the others. When churches are not intentional about evaluating their ministry by all three relationships, they almost always default to doing well with two:
– A church that cares for insiders and has strong teaching, but where outsiders are not as welcomed.
– A church that is evangelistic and loving, but with shallow theology.
– A church that has strong teaching and focuses on evangelism, but has a hard time building true community.

Currently Everyday Church is in the process of starting to use “Up, In, & Out” to help us find balance. I also really like the sound of living “With Jesus, In Community, On Mission.”

How does your church say it, and what are some ways you keep balance?

The Language of Spiritual Balance