To Rest Is Human; To Demonstrate Is Divine

rest-daniel-blogWe are exhausted and it’s an epidemic problem across North American churches. The antidote to the sub-human life of exhaustion is resting and being re-created by God into a new people who experience true recreation through trusting, stopping, and enjoying. Let’s walk through some of the story line Bible to see what trusting, stopping, and enjoying look like for God’s people as they live an entirely different kind of life.

Trust God: Rest in Genesis

Genesis 1:1 God reveals himself as all-power Creator. As the theologians put it, God is omnipotent, which means he has unlimited power. There is nothing God cannot do or create. He has no limits. How different this God is than you and me. God has given us value and life as image bearers, yet we are a far cry from being the all-powerful God. We have inherent limitations; God is the unlimited Creator, we are the limited created. But if God is so above us and he is omnipotent, why does God rest in Genesis 2:1-3?

God’s rest on the seventh day of creation is God speaking on our level. This is not a contradiction in God’s power, but rather a condescension; God stooping to our level, speaking to us in words we can understand, and showing us that we were created for rest. God built rhythms of rest into the fabric of creation and this includes you and me, the masterpiece of his creation. God does not want us to be God, even though our flesh urges us to this desire. Our flesh makes us crazy, begging the world to revolve around us in a rest-less hurricane. Yet when the world starts revolving around us just a little (re: celebrities, politicians, and even celebrity pastors, etc.) we tend to fall apart. God wants us to trust him by resting in him precisely because we are not God.

Rest is our opportunity to say to God, “I trust you with my whole life.” Rest is our opportunity to acknowledge we have limitations but God does not. Rest is our opportunity to ground our hope in who God is, rather than what we do. Rest is our opportunity to proclaim with our lives that God is the good, wise, gracious and all-powerful creator and sustainer of all, and we are simply not.

Stop Working: Creation to Exodus 

Fast forward seventy chapters from creation into the book of Exodus. In chapter 20 of Exodus, Moses is summoned to the Mount Sinai Book Store to pick up his first edition copy of the Ten Commandments. God outlines for Moses how the Israelites are to live with God in their midst, discussing everything from portions and priests to tithes and tabernacles. God finishes this meeting by commanding Israel to keep the Sabbath as a sign forever that he made the earth in six days and rested on the seventh.[1] The seventh day of creation is not simply an invitation to rest, it also a declaration that we were created for rest. This means that rest is a fundamental aspect of being human, like eating or even breathing. It’s not something extra, nor burden nor a luxury for the elite. Flip a few books to the right and we see the same story with a slight twist in Deuteronomy 5. When he’s reading the Ten Commandments to Israel, Moses calls the people to spend the seventh day remembering that they were once slaves in Egypt but that God saved them and now commands them to rest. These two accounts show us that not only were we created to rest, but we were also redeemed to rest.

You and I were created to rest with God on the seventh day. Our sin caused us to be expelled from life with God. Instead of living in cycles of rest, we now live in cycles of rush. The Exodus story shows how God single handedly redeems us out of the rush of slavery we had led ourselves into by picking us up, and placing us back into rhythms of rest with God. Rest begins with trusting God and then stopping our works. Refusal to rest is a return to slavery and a fruitless rebellion. The call of the Sabbath is a call to stop.

Created to Rest

Redeemed to Rest

 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11) “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God… Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

Enjoy Life: Feasts and Celebrations in Leviticus

Many of us struggle with stopping because we don’t know what to do once we have stopped. I have talked to countless men who fear retirement not because they love their job but because they simply do not know what to do once they have stopped working. Without knowing rest, we simply feel lost without work. God wants us to trust and stop in order to enjoy. In Leviticus 23, God commands Israel to follow SEVEN yearly feasts.[2] There are two purposes in all of these feasts. The first is to set apart Israel from the rest of the world by having them live an entirely different kind of life and the second is to express God’s relationship to his people. Each of the feasts is grounded in 23:3: “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord.” These feasts are filled with images of joyful voices, festive music and dancing, and abundant food. They are not simply parties, but celebrations of God’s goodness toward his people. These feasts provide an opportunity to celebrate with one another by remembering the Lord and the wonderful things he has done.[3] Feasting to God and celebrating with God is a part rest. God calls us to rest by enjoying him and so that we might, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”[4] One author rightly points out that the Sabbath is, “not a day off, but a day of celebration and delight.”[5]

The great call of scripture is to be reconciled to God so that we might enjoy him forever. Our busyness causes our focus to narrow and our anxieties to grow. Our busyness makes it hard to see God and when we can’t see him, we forget that he is beautiful. Urs von Balthasar (a theologian no one has ever heard of) once wrote, “God’s beauty is God’s power to attract, to give pleasure, to create desire, to awaken joy and wonder.”[6] When we trust God and stop our compulsive working, we can begin to see the beauty of God. Seeing the beauty of God frees us to from the slavery of busyness, free from the need to create our own futures.[7] Seeing the beauty of God will inevitably lead us to pure, unadulterated delight. God’s call to rest is a call to trust, stop, and ultimately enjoy.

Learning to rest like this is a process, and it isn’t necessarily an easy one. Trusting, stopping, and enjoying are interdependent movements. Try not to get too hung up on the order. Humanity has made a mess of rest, though, and it was not enough for God to simply tell us what to do to fix our mess. He had to come and show us what to do. Remember that, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[8] We were not only created for rest, but we were redeemed for rest. Jesus came because we were helpless. We would have never achieved the rest we were made for had he not come and freed us from sin. There is no pressure to get this right because Jesus has already declared us right through his life, death, and resurrection. Rest is not a requirement we meet to please God. It is instead an invitation we are responding to as people who are already safe, loved, and accepted as a result of God’s grace. So take a deep breath and let’s dive back in to trusting, stopping, and enjoying.

We are in a season here at Sojourn where the last Sunday of each month we are intentionally “Taking Back Sunday” by gathering, unplugging, feasting, connect with one another, and inviting others not just to church, but into a whole new way of life with God. Rest is a huge part of this and we invite you to continue following this blog series as we walk through what it means to rest biblically.

tbs-daniel-blog


[1] Exodus 31:13-17

[2] 1. The Sabbath (1-3) 2. The Feast of Passover (4-5) 3. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (6-8) 4. The Feast of Firstfruits (9-14) 5. The feast of Weeks (15-21) 6. The feast of Trumpets (23-25) 7. The Feast of Tabernacles (33-44)

[3] Leland Ryen, ed., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 278.

[4] Psalm 34:8

[5] Dan Allender, Sabbath, 12.

[6] De Gruchy, Christianity, Art, and Transformation, 111.

[7] Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, 28.

[8] 2 Corinthians 5:21

Exhaustion: We Have Settled For A Sub-Human Life

fast-pacedWe have no idea how to rest. And worse, we foolishly think this is a problem of the modern age, but King Solomon reminds us that we are facing an ancient problem:

What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. – Ecclesiastes 2:22-23

Despite all of our efforts, achievements, and success, many of us find that, even in the night, our hearts do not rest. This isn’t a “some busy-and-important people problem,” this is an “everyone” problem.

I see sixth graders who wake up at 5:00 a.m. to get to swim practice. They go to school all day, they are rushed to piano lessons in the afternoon, and then come home to work on their assignments until 9:00 p.m. They strain under the ivy-league expectations of their parents.

I see college students who have a main-line IV pumping Red Bull into their blood stream. They take honors classes and volunteer at soup kitchens to build their resumé. They work out twice a day and attend every social event to avoid the dreaded label “single.” They need to figure out what they’re doing with their lives and develop their five year plan.

I see young couples with dual incomes and no kids (the DINKS!) who are rising stars at work pulling 50-60 hours a week. Since they have no children, they feel it’s their duty to lead a small group, serve in children’s ministry on Sundays, volunteer with the Church Finance Committee, and participate in Saturday neighborhood cleanups. They are exhausted, feel guilty about their exhaustion, and think that they will slow down when they have children.

I see new mothers who are bitter with their sudden life change. Just a few months ago they were up to date on the latest women’s Bible study curriculum, spending an hour every morning pouring over the scriptures and drinking single-origin espresso. Now they have a crying baby and quiet times on the toilet.

I see 60 year-old businessmen who can’t keep up with the next generation. They see younger men willing to work twice as long for half as much, threatening their livelihoods and identities. They work every waking hour, despite a failing body, and even though the doctor says they need to slow down or face a heart attack, they don’t know what to do.

I could go on, but I hope you see the point. This is the North American Church. The examples above are not the exceptional case studies but rather the common experiences of the men and women in our churches, from the pastors to the preschoolers. We are all going somewhere, we are all running late, and we are all too stressed out to see what’s happening. We need to take a step back for a moment and consider what this communicates to the world around us. Louder than any sermon, our lives are shouting to the world that:

  • We don’t trust God
  • We don’t know how to stop working
  • We don’t know how to enjoy life

Every year, more and more statistics are being released that show our children are busier than ever, our people are unhappier than ever, our churches are plateauing or dying faster than ever, and our pastors are quitting more than ever.(1) 

These statistics are not coincidental. We have lost the fundamentals of our faith. Many of us were wooed by the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ promise found in Matthew 11. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Yet instead of finding rest, most of us have found long to-do lists, lots of pressure, and more stress than we know how to handle.

In short, we have settled for less than what has been purchased for us. We have settled for less than what we were made for. We have settled into sub-human living. We are not meant to love this way. This way of life fails to believe all God has done and all God promises to do. We must find rest through discovering the parts of God we have been missing.[2] We must rest to become fully alive to our humanity and to our creator. God wants us to live like people who have been made new, who have been REcreated. The call is to enter into and experience Recreation through trusting, stopping, and enjoying.

We are in a season here at Sojourn where the last Sunday of each month we intentionally are “Taking Back Sunday” to celebrate, rest, enjoy God, enjoy one another, and unplug. Rest is a huge part of this and we invite you to continue following this blog series as we walk through what it means to rest biblically.

tbs-daniel-blog


[1] http://pastoralcareinc.com/WhyPastoralCare/Statistics.php

[2] Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, 93.

You Just Got Served

220px-You-got-served-posterAs followers of Jesus, we can find ourselves in one of three places — and only one of these a good place:

  • I am a self-servant.
  • I am a selective servant.
  • I am a servant of all.

Being a self-servant is a dissatisfying trap. We weren’t made to serve ourselves, and doing so sends us into a spiral of misery. In our desperation, we throw our lives into an effort to prove our worth and glory, but those efforts inevitably disappoint, leaving us more empty than when we started.

What’s the response? We try again, and our need for glory and worth becomes greater and more painful as we continually fail to fill it. Spend an afternoon on Facebook, and you’ll see how dissatisfying it feels.

The next option isn’t much different. As selective servants, our willingness to serve others is actually just a façade for more self-service. It comes in the form of glorious Martha-Stewart–inspired dinner parties, or acts of service that take place on a platform or in front of cameras. It’s the same spirit that leads presidents to soup kitchens for thirty minutes on national holidays; while there may be some sincerity in there, it’s mostly just about the cameras.

It’s service …

  • on my time
  • my schedule
  • my location
  • my priorities.

It’s the Christian who digs wells twice a year in an impoverished country and wouldn’t loan you a lawn mower to save your life. It’s hospitality with the implied expectation of payback. And it’s anti-gospel.

Imagine how weakened Jesus’s testimony to the disciples would have been in John 13:1-20 if, the moment he finished washing their feet, he kicked up his own and said, “Who’s got me? I’m next.” Jesus served; our service begins with his.

Being a servant of all begins with the transforming power of the gospel. Look at how Christ’s serving is a crucial part of God’s gospel in Mark 10:43-45:

“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

As people who have been given everything we need in Christ (2nd Peter 1:3), we can look at the world around us with eyes open for the opportunity to share our abundance. There is no opportunity too meager, too demeaning, too private, or too public. Because service isn’t about us—it’s about those we serve and the God who’s given us everything. Nothing was beneath Jesus’s dignity in service. If you don’t feel served by Christ, I must ask,

 “Do you see your need to be served? Do you see your sin and brokenness? Have you forgotten the gospel?”

When we are in touch with our need, we gladly accept service. Do not morbidly dwell on your sin, but take your sin and brokenness to Christ. Let him serve you and be transformed into a servant of all. This is the gospel and the gospel makes you a servant — your service is all about the gospel.

If you follow Christ, then you are a servant of God. You have been called, created, and saved to serve. (1 Peter 4:10, Ephesians 2:10). You do not serve to get God’s grace. The gospel of grace is that God freely serves you at Christ expense. You will never be a servant of all until Christ serves you. Let Christ continue to serve you.

Be free to serve those who ‘don’t deserve it’. No one deserves God’s grace, so measuring, comparing or serving out of pity has no place for the Christian. The orphan and the smug receive our service of love. When we serve from our identity as a servant, the circumstances of our service cease to matter. We can be free from self-service and selective service, by being served by Christ and transformed into a servant of all.

Living out our identity as servants isn’t a crushing demand but a gentle invitation:

“Blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

Some of us need to be rebuked for not serving at all, for living selfish, self-obsessed lives. Some of us need to be rebuked for signing up for every opportunity to serve because we’re looking for that service to affirm and define us. Both types of people need to believe that they’re totally loved and accepted by Jesus, because that reality frees one type from self-enslavement and the other from an enslavement to the “shoulds and oughts.”

The gospel frees us from the search for significance in the things we do. It compels us to a life of love and forgiveness, and invites us to experience the blessing of serving others. It’s the way life was meant to be. You just got served, by God, and that’s a wonderful thing.

ten_a_rogerfederer1_ms_200x300So What Should I Do?

First, be served be Jesus. Ask God to show you your sin, need, and brokenness. Don’t dwell there, but lay it all down in front of Jesus. His perfect life, sacrificial death on the cross, and victorious resurrection were service to you. Be served by Christ continually, thus continually transformed to serve.

For your service, you don’t necessarily need to do more things, but just do what you do differently. Be willing to say, “Lord, I want to be a servant. As opportunities come, help me to follow your promptings.” Look for little ways to serve, and take a simple step at home, work, church, or your neighborhood.

  • Bring in a neighbor’s trash cans from the curb.
  • Watch kids in the church nursery.

Don’t be motivated by coercion or the flashy temptation of “new” ways to serve, but by the loving example of Christ.

* This post is an adaptation from Faithmapping by Daniel Montgomery & Mike Cosper, released by Crossway in 2013. 

Do I have to be a Member of a Local Church to Follow Christ?

We live in a commitment-averse society. Single people are delaying marriage until later and later in life, and lowering their expectations for marriage. And while a few generations ago, careers were rooted in a company and workers had a strong sense of corporate loyalty, today people change jobs every few years. We avoid the burden of commitment at every opportunity.

Yet we celebrate a gospel that begins with a radical, unshakeable commitment toward us. As Jesus tells us:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27–30)

Through Jesus, God has promised to be there for us, to protect us, to let nothing separate us from him (see Rom. 8:29–30, 35–39).  Jesus has made us family. A family that is committed and has certain responsibilities to one another. As Jesus has promised to look out for us, he calls us to look out for one another. James tells us:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19–20).

This commitment is mutual. By committing myself to the local church, I’m committed to a body of people that is, in turn, committed to me. Today in the church, this commitment is most often signified through what we call “membership,” but at its core, it’s a promise to look out for one another, a way of saying, “I’m in, I’m about this, and I want us to mutually journey together toward Jesus.”

We resist making such statements because we love the sense of comfort and freedom we feel from a lack of commitments. At its heart, this sense of freedom is a mask for consumerism. It’s an attitude that allows us to drift from church to church, from one big thing to the next, chasing fads and hype without setting down any roots. And without roots, we’ll never go deep. We take and we take, and we never give, we never contribute, we never say, “I’m in.”

As Pastor Joshua Harris says:

“We’ve let proud independence keep us uninvolved. This can be pride that says, ‘I don’t need other people in my life.’ Or it may be pride that says, ‘I don’t want other people to see me for who I really am.’ Both forms cut us off from the blessing and benefits of community in the local church.”1

But we are deceived if we think we’re free because we have no commitment. In reality, Christians who think they’ve made no commitments, who believe themselves free, are slaves to the worst kind of obligation: commitment to self. All of our personal histories should be enough to convince us that the First Christian Church of Me is a lousy place for accountability, encouragement, and support.

We need commitment because we’re not free. We’re not free from our sin-filled flesh, and unless we commit, unless we surround ourselves with people who have mutually promised to protect one another, we’ll be forever enslaved to self. Something as simple as membership in a local church, a tangible and practical commitment to a body of believers, should be symbolic of a profound commitment. As Pastor Mark Dever puts it:

“Church membership is not simply a record of a box we once checked. It should be the reflection of a living commitment or it is worthless. Indeed it’s worse than worthless; it’s dangerous.”2

There may not be a chapter and verse in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt become a member in thine local assembly of believers,” but in a culture of religious consumerism, faddism, and hype, we need to put down roots, demonstrate commitment, and submit ourselves to the practical accountability that church membership provides. We cannot practice all the ‘one another’ (like love one another 1st John 3:11) without an on-going committed community.

We simply cannot practice the process of discipline and restoration in 1 Cor. 5:1-13 or Matthew 18-15-17 or have elders to call for prayer as in James 5:13-14. To follow Christ as described in the New Testament is to be a committed member of the local church. So why do we fight this?

Because of our tendency to fall into worldly and inwardly consumeristic ways of living.

  • Sometimes that’s because of selfishness
  • Sometimes that’s because of shame
  • Sometimes that’s because of conflict

When we drift outside these connections of the local church, we deny what it means to be a family member.

If you are a Christian, then the gospel makes us family, and our family is all about the gospel. I’m a child of God in the family of God. Living as the family of God can take many expressions. At Sojourn we believe in the church gathered and scattered.

Gathered is every Sunday morning for worship, prayer, and preaching.

We are also scattered in community groups throughout the week, localized to our neighborhoods to live in community, be on mission to others, discuss that week’s preaching, and be a family.

Overarching gathered and scattered is membership. We are called to form committed, intentional relationships. Committed, intentional membership communicates that the gospel is something that matters. This is an aspect of our gospel-informed identity that’s worth organizing my life around.

This isn’t just a compartment of my life. Christ came into our world and was crucified and resurrected so that we could know God and live in interdependent relationships with one another in community. Christ sets before us life with him, his kingdom, where the focus is not ourselves. We’re freed from having the world revolve around our little soap opera, and we’re called into the far bigger drama of God’s kingdom.3

1 Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church! Fall in Love with the Family of God. (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2004), 59.

2. Mark Dever, What is a Healthy Church? (Wheaton, IL; Crossway, 2007), 95.

3. Much of this post is from an adaptation of Faithmapping by Daniel Montgomery & Mike Cosper. Crossway, 2013. p. 133-142

 

Rediscover The Forgotten Joys Of Christmas Caroling

photo 3People often debate the merits of modern Christmas traditions, but there is one tradition that, while less common than in past years, is alive and well among Sojourners: Christmas caroling.

Sojourners love getting together in groups, walking around our neighborhoods and singing of our savior’s birth. And it may surprise you to learn that many of these neighbors love it too! Here are a few testimonies from this past Wednesday’s Sojourn caroling, around the Midtown Campus neighborhoods:

• At least three groups had folks come out of their homes and finish the caroling routes with them, to sing to their neighbors. A couple even came back to the church building and hung out with us as we ate cookies and drank hot chocolate.

• A neighborhood lady who we’ve struck up a relationship with came to sing with us. Despite intense back pain, she walked the whole route and joyfully sang every note with us. She said she “wouldn’t have missed it.” She also knew many of the folks we were singing to, including her brother, who began to call the rest of their family and tell them what was happening.

• According to one Shelby Park Sojourner, one of her neighbors was literally jumping for joy when they started caroling.

• One elderly woman told a group, with tears in her eyes, that she hadn’t seen anything like this in 40 years.

These stories are just a few of the reasons why I’m glad that caroling is a yearly tradition at all of our campuses. We certainly have enough community group leaders and families to cover some serious ground.

Tips for caroling:

  • Be friendly, Christmas is a time of celebration and these songs are to enjoyed.
  • Go as a good-sized group (6-15) that’s not overwhelming. Showing community like this is attractive and gives opportunity to show God’s love in relationship.
  • Have a short practice session indoors beforehand with copies of music lyrics available so everyone can learn together and also get to know each other.
  • Communicate with the houses you carol at clearly. If they enjoyed your group, have something to leave with them about your church, service times, location, contact information, etc. Our Christmas Eve invites (available each Sunday at the Welcome Table) will work great.
  • Write down address and names after your time caroling. Hopefully, you will have further interactions if they are your neighbors. Remembering names is great way to show compassion and intentionally.

What are some of your ideas or best practices in caroling? Any stories of how God has used caroling in your life or neighborhood?

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