Tag Archives: Sabbath

What Do You Do When Life Spins Out of Control?

When a small airplane goes into a spin, the worst thing for the pilot to do  to try to muscle it back on course. The harder you grip the stick and the more you wrestle against the spin the worse it gets. Or so I’ve been told.

Pilots know that stopping a spin is counterintuitive. You have to power down and point the nose of the plane toward the ground. Yikes.

So too when our lives spin out of control.

In my last blog I asked how you fight spiritual entropy, that state all of us fall into where, no matter how hard we grip the controls of our lives, the slow spin begins and takes our spiritual breath away.

The Fallacy of Self-discipline

At one time severe self-punishment was considered a mark of spirituality or godliness. Famous are the men and women of faith who starved, beat, and even mutilated themselves as a form of discipline, as a way to fight off the creep–and sometimes even the tidal wave–of sin and shame and guilt in their lives. The belief behind this was that they could flagellate the disobedience or evil out of themselves.

Martin Luther, before his “Tower Experience,” practiced such discipline fiercely. He felt God’s justice demanded he punish himself to pay for his sins. No matter that Jesus had already paid his–and our–bill. But Luther discovered that no amount of shivering in the snow all night long in February, nor climbing up and down the Scala Santa (Holy Steps) on his knees in Rome reduced his shame and guilt.

Luther wrote, “I was myself more than once driven to the very depths of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him! … I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.

The real goal of all this pain was not mere punishment, but rather self-discipline. And maybe even to get God to love them. Luther–and others–wanted to better themselves and believed self-punishment and deprivation would help. It didn’t.

How Do You Punish Yourself?

Spiritual self-punishment is not as popular today, nor as severe, as it once was, thank God. But still many of us practice mild forms of it, maybe subliminally. Today we may only force ourselves to watch several hours of the TV show Jersey Shore, or watch one of television evangelist Benny Hinn’s “Miracle Crusades,” or–if we have really sinned–relive any of the New England Patriot’s Super Bowl wins.

But seriously, now that I’ve probably offended you, how do you punish yourself? In the extreme, self-cutting and eating disorders are well documented problems in the modern world. These painful, heartbreaking disorders are, in part, echoes of those ancient, ubiquitous drives for perfection. And they are just as ineffective at producing perfection.

The other extreme is quitting. Maybe you have just quit trying to grow spiritually.

Many of us, however, simply grab the stick tighter. We work harder. If at first you don’t succeed try harder. That works when cleaning a floor or driving a nail. It does not work so well in matters of the soul.

Rest: The Counterintuitive Answer

What do you do when your life spins out of control? Neither a tighter grip nor giving up is the answer. Irish poet and singer-song writer Thomas Moore wrote, “It’s important to be heroic, ambitious, productive, efficient, creative, and progressive, but these qualities don’t necessarily nurture the soul. The soul has different concerns, of equal value: downtime for reflection, conversation, and reverie; beauty that is captivating and pleasuring; relatedness to the environs and to people; and any animal’s rhythm of rest and activity.”

In the Christian world we call this Sabbath. “Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing,” says Eugene Peterson.

Without planning it, my recent backpacking trip with my son, Brendan, and some close friends from Oklahoma, turned into just such a Sabbath. On the mountain there was not even a control stick much less an opportunity to grab it tighter. No cell coverage, no internet, no bad political news. Only eating and sleeping and fishing and talking and praying and stars. There was work to be sure. Pumping water, gathering firewood, cooking, the constant watch against the weather. But it is a different kind of work. Work sans worry. It is the work of letting go.

And in so doing the small plane of my life righted, pulled out of its spin, and leveled off.

Sabbath, I’ve rediscovered is powering down and letting go of the stick. But more than that, it’s releasing control of life to a bigger, more capable hand.

We’d love to hear about places and times you have found rest.

Today is my last blog post here.  It has been a pleasure to be a part of this blog for the last several years. Thanks, Mike. And thank all of you for your listening ear, wise comments, funny responses, challenging ideas, and your on-line friendship. Please consider, if you have not already, joining me on my Living Spiritually blog. Click here and subscribe. Eugene

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Fighting Entropy or Spiritual Failure

Entropy is a constant. Entropy is that force that moves life from order to disorder. It takes a newly cleaned room and shuffles keys, books, pillows, and clothing out of their given places and into spots we never dreamed of. In its mildest forms entropy musses freshly combed hair and scatters dust bunnies under the bed.

But it can be a tornado tearing through our  goals and desires, our best intentions, turning them to rubble. It is the force that resists and defeats our New Years resolutions. It is the sad pull of gravity that takes a shiny new community and turns it to a ghetto.

Entropy is constant and powerful and often wears us out.

So too our spiritual lives. Spiritual entropy wears us out. Or it does me.

Shortly after Christmas of 2011, my son, Brendan and I decided to call 2012 The Year of Living Spiritually. 2012 would be a year of actively looking for God in daily life. We would notice things we had before brushed over. We would listen better for God in the usual places like Scripture and worship. But we also decided to look for God in art and music and nature and even in pain. In people. We then recorded our discoveries in daily journals and reported them in blogs and our Living Spiritually Facebook page.

It was exhilarating. God was everywhere. I filled my first journal in three months. I felt alive and awake as never before. I prayed more, listened better.

Then came spiritual entropy. I misplaced my journal and missed a day. Then two. Then more. Scripture reading became spotty. People in line at Wal-Mart once again became hindrances to my agenda rather than unique creations of an incredible God. I turned my back on glorious sunsets much less the smaller artistic touches God often puts on a day.

My eyes glazed over (spiritually and physically) and I ceased to see. I’ve failed spiritually. You ever been there?

But I want what I had back. I don’t want entropy to win. I want to wake up again.

So, how does one fight spiritual entropy?

At this point, I’m not sure. But I do know fighting spiritual entropy is different from fighting physical entropy. Cleaning up the messy room is a start but it’s not the ultimate solution. Spiritual entropy gains strength from our puny efforts to tame it or force order into it.

Unlike physical fitness, spiritual fitness does not come from lifting ever heavier weights.

In spiritual living there is this contradictory concept called rest. Jesus said it this way, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It’s a letting go. It’s counter intuitive. Hard to define. Tough to live out.

So in coming blogs we will try to define it.

And I’d love to hear from you. How do you fight spiritual entropy?

***** As you probably know, we have decided to discontinue writing the Neighborhood Cafe blog. It has been a pleasure to interact with so many of you and I have grown in my faith and life simply by writing and reading the posts and comments here. I hope you have too. I will miss it. But we need not so goodbye. I will continue to write my blog, The Year of Living Spiritually. Click here and look for the “subscribe” button on the right side of the blog. Please join me there and let’s continue to explore what it means to grow into who God created us to be by living spiritually.

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Why God Likes Vacations

 By Eugene C. Scott

Where do you go for rest and relaxation?

Is it twelve miles from nowhere up a mountain in the Pecos Wilderness? I’m willing to bet most people don’t consider strapping on a 50 pound backpack and hauling it into the wilds a restful idea.

I mean seriously.

Rest? You have to walk the whole way. There’s no escalator.

Relaxation? There are bears and mountain lions and mosquitos. And dirt. And you eat out of the same pot you cook with and wipe your spoon on your pants when you’re done. And you sleep on the ground in a tent and poop in the woods.

And there’s no Facebook or Twitter.

Still that is exactly what I’m going to be doing over the next few days.

And I will love every inconvenient, dirty, grueling, quiet, slow, peaceful, real minute of it.

A lightness of soul

Why? Mainly because there is a moment after hiking for miles that you shed your heavy backpack and feel a physical lightness that makes you want to grab onto something for fear you might float away. Then later, before crawling into your tent, that physical lightness turns into a lightness of soul as billions of stars salt the night sky. With those stars comes a lightness–a freedom, as if my soul has taken flight and is soaring and breathing again for the first time. To see the vastness of God’s creation–of God himself–is to be reminded I am not in fact the center of the universe. Hunkering down below those mighty peaks and brilliant stars I remember I do not determine the course of world events, or often, even of my own life just as I don’t direct the stars.

Being busy does not equal being important

Up there I know I am not responsible for who becomes president, poverty in Haiti, global warming, or your happiness. That is not to say I do not play a role in these things. I do and so do you. But wilderness tells me in no uncertain terms, you are not all that. 

I believe this is why so many of us have a difficult time unplugging and truly taking time off. We are comfortable in our delusion that we are all that.

“How are you?” we ask one another.

“Busy!” we exclaim. “OMG, you would not believe all the things I have to do.”

But here is what we’re really saying:

“How are you?” we ask one another.

“Important!” we exclaim. “OMG, if I stopped doing what I’m doing for just one second, the entire world (at least the one that revolves around me) would collapse.”

The truth is, however, that our worlds do not collapse when we rest.

God likes vacations

Years ago–at the beginning of human time–God created rest saying, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work . . . .” Sabbath–taking one day or more off–is God’s gift to us so that we can feel that lightness of soul. So we know that God, not us, is All That.

Modern science is finally catching up with God on this concept. Elizabeth Lombardo, a clinical psychologist who wrote a book titled A Happy You, says, “Taking a break . . . affords you an opportunity to step back, put life into perspective, and remember what’s really important. It helps get your priorities straight.”

And all this time we thought God was trying to be unreasonable and bossy. And the funny–meaning ironic–thing is that Christians are the ones most guilty of believing being busy equals being important. And pastors may be the worst of the worst at unplugging and resting.

Cat Stevens’ (now Yusaf Islam) old song “Miles from Nowhere” speaks of unplugging and getting our priorities straight:

“Miles from nowhere

I guess I’ll take my time

Oh yeah, to reach there

Look up at the mountain

I have to climb

Oh yeah, to reach there.

Lord my body has been a good friend

But I won’t need it when I reach the end.

Miles from nowhere.

Not a soul in sight.

Oh yeah, But it’s alright.”

Eugene and Stasia

For me the beautiful thing about being miles from nowhere and falling asleep under the stars, and marking time based on hunger pains not calendar appointments, and spending several days with a fly rod rather than a key board in my hands is knowing that the world is in God’s hands and not mine. Under that vast dome of stars, I realize true importance comes not from busyness but rather from the fact that the God who created those billion stars and that towering mountain knows my name and has written my story in his book. And this is true whether I am resting or working.

When I return, and you ask me how I am, I hope I answer, “I’m not all that. But it’s alright.”

Eugene C. Scott also believes God likes us to take vacations because it gives God time to clean up the messes we’ve made. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Time Management According to Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, and Twelfth Century Monks

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathleen Turner, Michael J. Fox, and William Shatner have all done it in movies. Though not with each other. In hot tubs, space ships, funky machines, and DeLoreans, among others.

No, I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about time travel. Time travel stories are an extremely successful movie and book genre.

Mark Twain wrote one, “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is a classic children’s book. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote a time travel story that is a classic novel, no matter the genre: “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” was a New York Times bestseller.

Time is a Trap

Apparently I’m not alone in feeling time is a trap that must be escaped, warped, changed, or messed with. Ominous clocks tick down the minutes, seconds, and now, nano-seconds of our lives. They flash at us red and angry from contraptions in every room of our houses. They demand we not be a minute late and hold fearsome deadlines against us. And, as from all bullies, we yearn for release.

The Gift of Kairos

Once upon a time, however, most people viewed the passing of time from day to night and night to day as a logical, good rhythm to live by. A gift. Sleep and waking, planting and harvest, birth and death flowed as a smooth river through every person’s life. Some called this “kairos,” “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” Life was seen as a whole not an ugly patchwork of disembodied seconds, minutes, and hours. It was created this way.

Chronos: A Tyrant is Born

Until some German monks in the middle ages invented mechanical clocks designed to mark the passing of an hour.

But mechanical clocks were not intended to be the digitized oppressors they’ve become. Rather, these 12th century monks invented “glockes,” a bell that rang out regularly, to remind the monks to seek God through prayer, stillness, and meditation. Originally glockes marked kairos. The bells drew attention to the ever-present God in whom we live and move and breathe. The glocke was intended to remind us of the rhythm of life: eat, pray, work, pray, eat, make love, pray, work, read, sleep, pray, eat, watch, pray, play, work, sleep. Time was seen as something to live within–not to escape–and, more so, to live spiritually within, according to a spiritual rhythm.

Unfortunately that time is long past. Oh, to enter one of those fictional time machines and travel back to natural time keepers such as sun and shadows, and growth and death. These marked time with a huge sweep of the hand. Now we are ruled by chronos, the segmenting of time. As the Greek myth reads, Chronos then wrapped its serpentine tail around the world and split it apart.

7 Minutes with Who?

Even in our spiritual lives chronos has become our god by dividing and conquering. We worship one day a week for an hour, sharp. If that. A popular book of the chronos age called “7 Minutes With God: Daily Devotions for a Deeper Relationship” advocates a precise, agenda driven appointment with God. Imagine saying to someone you love, “Hurry. We’ve got seven minutes.”

Can God fit in an hour much less 7 minutes? Since living spiritually is about deepening our relationships with God, be warned. It will take longer than 7 minutes.

Need I say it? Time, as marked by inhuman and unforgiving glockes, has become our master, our god. And not a god of mercy or grace.

Jesus, King of Kairos

Yet, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Today Jesus might say it this way, “Time was made for people, not people made for time.” Jesus never consulted a clock. And Jesus proved time need not be a tyrant, that oppressors, even inanimate ones, can and should be thrown off.

Living spiritually, it seems to me, calls us to travel back in time when we walked in the fulness of the gift of kairos. Free. But we don’t need any crazy machines to get there. We can simply–once again–grab time by the tail and use it to call our attention away from the finite and toward a timeless infinite God.

Kairos lives!

Eugene C. Scott loves watches and clocks. His two watches of his father’s are his favorites. But ticking clocks drive him crazy. He also hates to be late, though it does happen. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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A Seat at the Table

By Michael Gallup

Every Thanksgiving, my family congregates at Grandma’s house for a feast, sometimes as many as 60 people in attendance. My Dad would tell the story about his first Pierce Thanksgiving. He described a washtub of dressing, nine pies, and what he thought amounted to enough food to feed an army. However, he underestimated the appetites of the Pierce army and after taking a nap found my Uncle Jimmy picking the last scraps of meat off of the turkey carcass.

I can assure you that this feeding frenzy we call Thanksgiving has not ceased to be a furious survival of the fittest at Grandma’s house. There is little decorum to these meals, most carry a fork in their front pockets so that they can sample the goods before Grandma prays and we take turns trying to cut each other in line and pushing the capacity of our paper plates to their limits. Yet there is one aspect of this meal that us newcomers refuse to intrude upon, who sits at the table.

Like I said, sometimes as many as 60 people show up for this meal and sit all sorts of places, on stumps, lawn chairs, the floor, but a few, only about three, sit at the table. These are usually my uncles: Jesse, Steve, Rocky, and Jimmy. Although no one has ever stated that it is off limits to sit there, I wouldn’t dare presume to take a chance. Sometimes they do let others sit there, my brother has before and some of my cousins, but none of them lasted very long; my uncles are a tough bunch to sit with I promise you. Throughout my years of sharing this meal, I like my dad, have learned a few lessons, but most of all I learned that you must earn your seat at the table.

Jesus finds himself ,strange enough, at a table similar to my Grandma’s. One Sabbath after the Jewish equivalent of church, he is invited to a meal at a religious leader’s house. There he finds that this extension of hospitality was actually far from it, the host sought to test his guests to evaluate their worth to sit at his table.

Jesus, clever as always, addresses this act of inhospitability by reversing the table, he points to another recipient of the host’s up-turned nose, a man with swollen joints. Jesus asks the group what is the right thing to do on this day, to heal or not to heal? The party remains silent, the answer is clear enough but in the answer they find their hypocrisy revealed.

The Sabbath was a day to let go and let God, but they were using it to jockey for position, to earn a right to sit at the table. Instead of showing hospitality to the injured man, they ignore him because he is in their way. Yet Jesus refuses to let them go along in such a manner. Into their silence, he tells them a story that gives flesh to the skeleton of a meal they are sharing. He says:

“When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.

“When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Meals are indeed sacred; times when, if we are true to their intent, we are brought to the same level. We all need meat and bread, we each need sustenance and are utterly dependent upon God and each other for this food. Meals are a time to share our hopes and jokes, time to not only share the gravy but our very lives.

Yet we, like the religious leaders Jesus speaks this story to, have perverted the intent of a meal. It has become a time to hoard as opposed to a time to give, a time to expose our power over another as opposed to a time to humble ourselves, and a time to lament our lack as opposed to a time to praise our abundance. But the beauty of this story like most of Jesus’ stories is that it not only exposes our deficiencies, it also offers hope of a better story.

In our humility, Jesus says, we find honor. I said that I never presumed to sit at the table with my uncles; this was not because I had some great sense of humility but because I was scared of them. They are some big bad dudes, but through the years I’ve sought to honor the men who grew up with my Momma and in small ways I’ve had some of the honor and even respect reciprocated. And I promise you, those few moments and words have been some of the sweetest in my life.

I think that all along, if I simply had the courage, I could have found a seat at their table, there was always room, because they had no need to prove themselves to anyone, least of all me. “But these strict Sabbath-keepers had their eyes first on Jesus to see what he was going to do, then on one another to see how they could take advantage of one another. They were betraying the Sabbath in the very act of ‘protecting’ it.” And we betray ourselves when we use the good things God has given us to somehow prove ourselves.

May we lower our noses and seek the last place and perhaps we may hear Christ himself say to us, “Friend, come up front.”

Michael is an aspiring church-planter and student at Denver Seminary. You can read his blog, A Sprig of Hope, by clicking here.

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Created To Fly

Mary Poppins ranks as one of my favorite movies of all time. Call me a nerd, I don’t care!

My favorite scene occurs at the end of the movie when newly recovered workaholic George Banks invites his children to join him in flying a kite. The scene always moves me to tears.

With springtime in the air, we’re entering kite flying season. I’m not a physics whiz, but have you ever considered how kites stay in the air? Obviously, they need wind and a tail. But they also need a string. You’d think that by letting go of the string, the kite would soar even higher—but that isn’t the case. Let go of the string and your kite will fall to the ground. But hang on to the string—even tug it—and the kite will soar higher.

The thing that holds the kite up in the air is the thing that ties it down.

Believe it or not, that summarizes today’s daily conversation.

Please join me!

TODAY’S READING

Deuteronomy 5:1-6:25
Luke 7:11-35
Psalm 68:19-35
Proverbs 11:29-31

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Deuteronomy 5-6:25. Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai.

In this section, Moses recounts the heart of the covenant between God and Israel by reciting the 10 Commandments (the first time they’re mentioned is in Exodus 20:2-17). This time while reading through them, I noticed something interesting in Moses’ instructions regarding keeping the Sabbath in verse 15. He reminds Israel, “Remember that you were slaves.” What does that have to do with the Sabbath? When Israel worked for Egypt as slaves, they labored seven days a week. They never enjoyed a day off for rest, hence, work was bondage. The Sabbath, then, celebrates Israel’s freedom from slavery.

This gives me pause to consider the power that work can play on any individual. Working seven days a week is slavery. Bondage. Taking a break from work is one way we can declare to ourselves and everyone that our jobs are not our masters. This is something I need to seriously consider, because pastoring and writing gravitate toward requiring seven days a week.

Luke 7:11-17. The widow in the story was truly in a difficult place. She had no husband to support her and then her only other source of provision—her son—had died. Notice that Jesus touched the coffin, rendering him defiled the rest of the day.

Psalm 68:19-35. If you have time, meditate on verse 19 for a moment: “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” Every day, God bears our burdens. Imagine what your life would look like if he didn’t bear your burdens.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

“Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always,

so that it might go well with them and their children forever!”

-Deuteronomy 5:29

This passage of Scripture expresses God’s desire for us. He wants our lives to go well.  Moses reiterates this in Deuteronomy 6:3: “Be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey.”

God wants you to thrive–believe it!

This reminds me that because God loves us, he only desires good for us. But notice that his words were spoken within the context of obeying his commands. In fact, his words immediately follow the listing of the Ten Commandments.

This tells me that the law wasn’t intended to serve as a means to restrict Israel’s joy, it was intended to enhance it. Oftentimes what we regard as “freedom” is really bondage in disguise. And some “restrictions” actually open the door to greater freedom.

Like the string on a kite, the thing that keeps you up in the air is the thing that ties you down—and obedience to God is the string.

Sometime today, I encourage you to take a moment to ask God, In what areas of my life are you calling me into greater obedience?

I could offer you different options on what obedience might mean for you, but I think that would counteract the process. God created you to fly, but in order to fly you need something to tie you down.

I’m not advocating legalism. Danger lies on either end of obedience—living an overly restrictive life or with too much license.

If you want to fly, then pay close attention to what holds you down.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How have you experience freedom through obedience to God?
  3. How have you experienced bondage through your freedoms?
  4. How is God calling you to obey?
  5. What would your life look like if God didn’t bear your daily burdens?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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