Working on the Weekend

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Working on the Weekend

John 4:1-6

“Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.”

This handful of verses is used by John to set the stage for one of the most famous stories in the gospels: The Woman at the Well. Today, let us take just a moment to look at Jesus, just before He met this woman who would go on to inspire the faith of her entire city.

John tells us that the whole journey started because the Pharisees were getting uppity in the Jerusalem area because Jesus was gaining more disciples than John (even though Jesus wasn’t baptizing any of them). It seems likely that the Pharisees had a respect for John the Baptist as a kind of ultra-conservative religious figure, even though John publicly mocked them. Jesus however, played a bit too fast and loose for them. He ate with sinners.

Perhaps Jesus did not want to stir up trouble too early. Maybe He simply had finished teaching in this area and was ready to move on. We do not know His exact. motive for sure, but Jesus left town and headed north, making His way back home to Galilee. Rather than try to go out of His way around Samaria, He chose to go through it.

This put Jesus in a vulnerable position, for Jews and Samaritans had a kind of heated religious and racial rivalry. Whereas the Roman Empire would have kept the two groups in check in the bigger cities like Jerusalem, I imagine that there was less protection in these smaller places like Sychar.

Jesus was also physically vulnerable simply from walking this far and needing water. Most sane people got indoors and would have been resting quietly during the hot noonday sun. Jesus did not have the convenience of shade and shelter though. Perhaps he should have left earlier that morning. Regardless, the transient Savior of the world found Himself at the edge of the one decent source of water for this town, and while everyone else was inside resting, He found Himself staring into the face of one of the towns more notorious sinners.

I don’t know that this event happened on the weekend. The Jews did not celebrate 2 day weekends, but a Sabbath that went from sundown to sundown. I suspect that if this was a Sabbath day, John would have mentioned it. However, it was a time of rest, and Jesus was tired and thirsty and needed rest Himself. It was a need for rest that brought Him to this well in the first place.

Yet this time of personal need did not stop Him from serving God and transforming lives around Him. As I mentioned above, this is one of the most famous stories of Jesus teaching and transforming the life of another. What would have happened if He simply felt too tired to even speak to this woman? What would we have lost today if Jesus had simply helped Himself to a drink, rather than asking for help?

How do invite others to help you in your own personal needs?

Where do you have opportunities to share God’s grace to others through your own needs or weakness?

 

 

Working for rest

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Working for rest

Hebrews 4:1–10

4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“As in my anger I swore,

‘They shall not enter my rest,’ ”

though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. 4 For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this place it says, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he sets a certain day—“today”—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. 9 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Heb 4:1–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

What if each of our lives were works of art painted across the canvas of time? At the end of time, all the artwork would be revealed as God’s great art show. Jesus, the master painter would be there to celebrate the work of all His students. What a glorious and beautiful thing that could be!

We, created in God’s image are creators as well. We take the material God gives us and make new things, shaping our lives to suit our desires. Being God’s craftsmen and women, we all have a desire to look upon our creations and see that they are good. Upon completion, we, like God, would love to look back and say that it is all very good. The time of Sabbath rest following that judgment is not just because we often get tired trudging through the work of life. The rest is a time to celebrate the work we have accomplished with God.

If we choose not to work, or to work poorly however, we will have nothing to celebrate. Indeed, it may bring shame upon us to look back upon our lives. What can I do if my life is not a thing of beauty and goodness? I can ask for help.

Jesus, the master painter is always there to lead and guide us, helping us to grow as an artist of life. He freely gives knowledge and wisdom to those who seek Him. He leads and disciplines us in the practices of life. Although we can learn these things from others as well, it is Jesus alone who can also wipe our canvas clean, taking our mistakes upon Himself, where He can transform them into something beautiful. In Jesus, God has come to us and created a painting of painters, a photograph of photographers, a symphony of composers, and a book of authors – all telling His own story. Is that not what the Bible is itself? A book of authors, all telling part of God’s story?

What is your part in God’s work of art?

What is Sabbath?

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If you are a pastor or work in a church, you have probably heard about the Sabbath.

If you do not attend church (or synagogue) you may have never heard the word before.

Sabbath has been a hot topic – in a oddly mellow kind of sense, for several years, within the small minority group of those who lead, or think they lead the Church. Unlike many words that have morphed over the years (i.e. Christmas -> Mass of Christ, Christ’s Mass), the word Sabbath has not been overly anglicized, Romanized, or greatly altered in any way. It has simply fallen out of use. The one exception to this that I am aware of has been the term “sabbatical”, used primarilly in academic circles as an extended time off from normal work – sometimes used to write books or work on large projects that time teaching classes during the regular semester does not allow.

The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible says that Sabbath is:

Derivation of a Hebrew word which means “cease” or “desist.” The sabbath was a day (from Friday evening until Saturday evening in Jesus’ time) when all ordinary work stopped. The Scriptures relate that God gave his people the sabbath as an opportunity to serve him, and as a reminder of two great truths in the Bible—creation and redemption.

Based upon Genesis 2, when God rested on the seventh day of creation, the Sabbath was instituted in the Ten Commandments (#4). The commandment itself says to “remember” the Sabbath and “keep it holy (or sacred)”, but does not specify why. It was one of the most important commandments in the Old Testament though, and the failure to keep Sabbath days were often cited as a reason for Israel’s lack of faithfulness to God. Why was it so important to God that His people take a day off work?

I think we can find the answer in the commandment itself. God wants us to remember Him and His work in creating us. He wants us to remember that the world was created with a purpose for good. He wants us to remember we were created according to that same good purpose. That regular reminder is not just a mundane ritual we are to play out like eating or sleeping. It is supposed to be something we hold sacred and carry out with the same kind of reverence we have when we bury loved ones or thank God for the birth of a new child. Life and death happen every day, and once a week, we are called to remember and celebrate the gifts that God has given us.

How will you keep and celebrate the Sabbath?

For more of my thoughts on Sabbath, click here

Sabbath: in theory and practice

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 The Reality: Our culture that has eroded away much of the understanding and most of the obedience in Sabbath as a part of the Christian life. While it is easy to point out that clergy do not get Sundays off, making it difficult for them to make Sabbath time, all people in our churches live in a world that requires more work hours to maintain the current style of living, leaving their own Sundays (if they are not working them) as a day to catch up on house and yard work. I have not met parents that did not require their kids to do unfinished schoolwork on Sundays to get caught up for school the next day. 

The Problem: Sabbath as a day of rest and worship has dwindled to a handful of hours once a week for those considered faithful members of our congregations. Our clergy are both leading and informed by this cultural understanding, often asking for many hours of volunteer service of our church members on their one day of rest. While the burnout rate among pastors is high it is much higher among church staff and volunteers who often work only part-time in our congregations and do not have the luxury of taking a day off in the middle of the week. We lose great servants of God every day because neither the world, nor the Church provides them with nor teaches them to make Sabbath time.

A New Perspective: I’ve come to look at Sabbath time as part of the rhythm of life. Rather than counting hours or looking at specific practices, I believe that we have a need to put everything on pause and be still in God’s presence. I need to recognize God’s work in my past moments. I take that time to give good thanks and give him the glory for the work we have been able to accomplish through His grace and strength. Then, I can turn the page and ask God to give me the wisdom, guidance, grace, and strength I need to prepare for the next task ahead. That is my concept of Sabbath: giving God the glory for yesterday and asking for His help as I turn the page to tomorrow.

Looking Back to the Source: Within this broad concept of Sabbath is much room for when, where, and how it is celebrated. I see this played out in Genesis 1 where God pauses every day for a moment to recognize the good work He had done. At the end of the sixth day, God recognized that it was all very good before taking a time of rest Himself. This example shows us the need to have “Sabbath” moments daily, weekly, as well as perhaps monthly and annually. Indeed, our particular life schedules may not work out with a 7-day week concept, but if we base our Sabbath schedule around completed tasks, it focuses us on our gratitude to and dependence upon God for all our life activity, rather than completing a spiritual or personal obligation without relationship. 

A Greater Responsibility: As clergy, and as full-time clergy in particular, we cannot hold up a concept of Sabbath that is impossible to live out among our bi-vocational brothers and sisters and volunteers. Nor are we being true leaders if we simply reserve the privilege of Sabbath time to ourselves while we burden others with responsibilities in our time off. Sabbath was intended to be a community-wide celebration that informed the entire culture, not the opportunity of the elite. I expect it will require hard, diligent work on the part of full-time clergy, to create opportunities for true Sabbath, by which to allow God to shape and change our church culture into His images and engage the culture around us with His grace and love.

 

I want to invite Jesus to be the Lord of my Sabbath.

 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John‬ ‭15‬:‭5-8‬ (ESV)‬‬‬‬‬‬