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

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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