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Sabbath Refreshment

Kingdom Living has been the over-arching theme of our messages for these past couple months. We’ve been looking at how different God intends life to be in His kingdom compared to what most people experience in the kingdom of this world.

I think most of us have at least some understanding that when we choose to follow Christ, life is going to be different. But I’m not sure any of us fully realized just how differently God wants us to live and how differently He wants us to think. We’re told in Romans 12:2…

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

And so we’ve been trying to figure out – what is God’s good and pleasing and perfect will for us? How does God want to live as citizens & ambassadors in his Kingdom? How does He want us to change our thinking? What values in our life need to be replaced or re-ordered when we begin following Christ? What customs or behaviours need to be stopped or started? What elements of our Canadian culture simply don’t mesh with the culture of the Kingdom of God?

As we’ve been asking all these questions, we’ve been discovering all kinds of ways that God wants us to think and live differently from the world. 

One of those ways that we’ve just started looking at is the practice of the Sabbath – which is certainly a very different custom from what we see in the world. And so understandably, there is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about what the Sabbath is all about.

We first brought up this topic last week and already I’ve had many conversations filled with questions about the Sabbath. What exactly is the Sabbath? Is the Sabbath something for the ancient Jews or is it relevant for us today? Is #4 of the ten commandments still a commandment for us, or has that law been somehow fulfilled in Jesus? And if it is relevant to us today, what does that look like? Should we practice the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday or does it even matter when? And what sort of things do we do? What do we not do?

There are all kinds of questions and we certainly won’t answer them all today – but hopefully we’ll begin to answer at least a few.

Now we started digging into this last week in what I think is the most obvious place – the ten commandments as found in Exodus 20. In fact, let me re-read that commandment for you just so that it is fresh in our minds. In Exodus 20 – verse 8 we read:

8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 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 livestock, and any foreigners living among you. Exodus 20:8-10

So that was our starting point as we began looking at the Sabbath last week. Now the first thing we noted last week was that for these Israelites who had been living in Egypt for the last 400 years and who had just now been freed from their slavery, the idea of not working seven days a week was a very foreign idea. Slaves did not get vacations or weekends or days off. They most certainly did not stop working for a whole day every week. This was very new and very different. 

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Value in Just Being

I want to read a short excerpt from a book called “Less is More” by Jay Walljasper. It goes like this:

The alarm rings and you hop out of bed. Another day is off and running. A quick shower. Wake the kids and rush them through breakfast so they won’t miss the bus. Down a cup of coffee. Shovel a bowl of cornflakes. Hurry out to the car, not forgetting a swift kiss on your partner’s cheek. Hightail it to the freeway, making a mental note to grab some takeout Thai on the way home. (The kids’ soccer practice starts at 6:15 sharp.) Weave back and forth looking for the fastest lane while the radio deejay barks out the minutes — 8:33, 8:41, quarter to. Reaching work, you sprint into the building and leap up the stairs three at a time, arriving at your desk with seconds to spare. You take a couple of deep breaths, then remember that the project you didn’t finish last night must be sent to New York by 10:00. Meanwhile, you’ve got five voice-mail messages and dozens more on e-mail, six of them marked urgent. 

More and more it feels like our lives have turned into a gruelling race toward a finish line we never reach. No matter how fast we go, no matter how many comforts we forgo in order to quicken our pace, there never seems to be enough time.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. As a kid in the 1960s, I remember hearing that one of the biggest challenges of the future would be what to do with all our time. Amazing inventions were going to free up great stretches of our days for what really matters: friends, family, fun. But just the opposite has happened. 

We’ve witnessed a proliferation of dazzling time-saving innovations — jet travel, personal computers, Fed Ex, cellphones, microwaves, drive-through restaurants, home shopping networks, the World Wide Web — yet the pace of life has been cranked to a level that would have been unimaginable three decades ago.

From the book “Less is More” by Jay Walljasper

While not too many of us were kids in the 60s like this author, I think most of us can relate to what this guy is saying. We live in world that moves at a frantic pace. We’re always on the move. Our days are packed with activity. Between work and kids and church and everything else we do, most of us feel overloaded, stretched thin, and running on empty. No matter how much we do, there’s always more to be done. We might work 60 or 80 hours a week and we still don’t get ahead. Even when we vacation, our vacations are packed with activity. If you’re like me, when you come back home after a vacation, you feel like you need another vacation just to recover from that vacation.

And so sadly, most of us just live in that continual state of being weary and worn out. 

And I have to wonder, is that really how God wants us to live? Is that how God wants us to experience life? Wouldn’t it be nice, if once in a while, you could just stop. Wouldn’t it be nice to just hit the pause button – to ignore your cellphone, your email, your facebook notifications – to not have to do anything and just be. Doesn’t that sound refreshing to you? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a pause button in life?

Well, believe it or not, God’s already thought of that. God actually designed life to come with a pause button.

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Doing God’s Work

There’s a short film called “Godspeed” that I watched recently and it’s all about this Pastor, Matt, who ended up moving to and pastoring in a tiny community in rural Scotland. And while he is there, to make a long story short, he learns the value of slowing down, learning to really know and be known by the people around him, and he learns to participate with God in the slow work of changing lives through relationships. And I watched this film back in January and I am still processing the implications for my life. It’s had a significant impact on me and I’ve debated showing you the whole film in place of a sermon, but I’ve opted not to do that today – perhaps that’ll be part of a Bible study in the fall or something.

But at the end of the film, there’s a short epilogue. After spending 13 years in Scotland, learning to operate at Godspeed, Matt moved back to America and began pastoring a church in small city in central Washington. And the film closes with how Matt is now, along with his new congregation, trying to figure out how to live the slower, more relational “Godspeed” life in the midst of the fast paced, non-stop culture of America. Life in urban America is very different from life in rural Scotland, so how do these principles translate and apply in this culture?

And that actually sounds a bit like what we’ve been doing here for the past several weeks. About a month ago we began going through this series called “Kingdom Living” and we’ve been trying to figure out how do we live differently in the Kingdom of God while still living in this world. What does it look like for citizens of the Kingdom of God to live right here here in Alberta, Canada in 2018 in the midst of a very worldly culture & society? Because just like how rural Scotland is very different from urban America – the Bible describes life in the Kingdom of God as being very different from life in the kingdom of this world.

So far, we’ve looked at two major contrasts between these two kingdoms. The first contrast was how our western culture today is increasingly individualistic and me-centered. Selfies are our main way of expressing ourselves. The question everyone asks is “What’s best for me? – Not, “What’s best for us?” But in the kingdom of God, we are called to put others first and to sacrifice for the good of one another. 

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An Economy of Abundance

This week, for the first time since living in Penhold, we planted a garden. I mean, last year we did plant a little flowerbed with a few veggies in it, but we’ve never had a real garden space at this house until this year. Which has been has been bit disappointing to us – previously we’ve always had large gardens and we love fresh peas and corn and carrots and beans and all that. But landscaping is always a multi-year process (for us anyway) – everything takes time and we just hadn’t gotten to the point where we were ready for the garden. But finally, this year, having dug up our entire backyard anyway, we were finally ready to plant a garden.

So that’s what we did on Saturday and now we’re all pretty excited to watch those tiny little seeds sprout and grow and then ultimately produce a whole bunch of really good things to eat! 

And it’s always amazing to me how one little seed produces so much! For example, if you plant just one little bean seed, that little bean seed will grow and produce a plant with about 20 bean pods – and each of those pods hold about 6 beans – so that’s roughly 120 beans produced by planting one little bean seed. That’s a pretty good return on investment! You plant 1 and get 120 back!

Corn is even better. You plan one little kernel of corn and you get a plant with at least one (maybe even 2 or 3) corn cobs with each having between 500-1200 kernels each! That’s a really impressive return!

Tomatoes are even more amazing. In each average-sized tomato, there are between 150-300 seeds. That’s per tomato – and each tomato plant grows a lot of tomatoes! Now we probably wouldn’t get this with our short growing season, but in the commercial greenhouses, one tomato vine will grow about 200 tomatoes in a season. So even at 150 seeds per tomato, that’s 30,000 seeds all produced from one little tomato seed. Incredible.

And then, just as one final example, consider an apple seed. If you plant one single apple seed, you can grow a beautiful apple tree. That apple tree, once’s it’s fully mature, will produce on average (depending on the variety) about 500 apples each year. Each of those 500 apples will hold about 10 seeds – so that 5,000 seeds per year. Now perhaps that’s not as impressive as the 30,000 tomato seeds, but this apple tree will continue producing these apples year after year for at least 20 years or more. That means, that over the lifetime of that apple tree – from one little apple seed – will grow over 100,000 other apple seeds.

And I bring all this up because I think it’s a wonderful illustration of how the economy of God is an economy of abundance. And I’ll explain what I mean by that in just a minute, but first, let me back up and remind us all of what we’ve been talking about for the past several weeks.

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Contrasting a “Me-Centered” Society

If you’ve ever read through the Gospel of Matthew, you’ve probably noticed that Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe it’s about 55 times in Matthew – 126 times throughout all four Gospels – that Jesus talks about this kingdom. He tells all kinds of parables and gives all kinds of illustrations to help us understand what the Kingdom of God is like. And of course, Jesus isn’t talking about a kingdom with physical borders and castles and armies and things like that. The kingdom of God is a different kind of kingdom. In fact, when Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor, Pilate, Pilate asks him, “Are you a king?” And Jesus says in John 18:36…

36 Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36

Jesus was saying his kingdom was very different from the kingdom of Rome or any other kingdom that we might be familiar with. You see, unlike most kingdoms, the Kingdom of God is not centered around some physical location like a city or a castle or a country. The Kingdom of God is centered around God. And God of course is not limited by location – he’s omni-present. He’s present everywhere all the time. So God’s kingdom is not defined by a physical location, but it’s defined by the people who carry out the will of their king.

Two weeks ago we looked at the Lord’s prayer and there’s a key part of that prayer – one that you’re probably familiar with – which goes like this: 

“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 KJV

We talked about how, when we pray that, we are inviting God’s will as King to be done on earth and in our lives and in our community – just as his will is being carried out in heaven. 

And so when Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven – he’s talking about the people who submit to and carry out the will of God in their lives.

And it makes sense that we should pray that prayer – “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – We should be eager to carry out God’s will because we know that God’s will is good and pleasing and perfect. We read that from Romans 12:2 three weeks ago:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

Our will is often flawed. I can’t speak for you, but I know that my will is often selfish and sometimes I make decisions that hurt others or even myself. We are not perfect people and we do not make perfect decisions.

But God is perfect. And his will is perfect. It’s good and it’s pleasing. We don’t always understand it. We don’t always see the good immediately. But if God really is how the Bible describes Him – loving, just, faithful, and all those other things – then we can trust that his will is good and pleasing and perfect.

And I’ve certainly seen that to be true in my life. I’ve had a lot of regrets doing things my way, but I’ve never regretted doing things God’s way.

But that’s sure not to say that it’s been easy. Doing things God’s way often means doing things the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing. We’ve talked about how the Kingdom of God is very different from the Kingdom of this world. In fact, that’s probably why Jesus talked about it so often. If we are going to live in the kingdom of God, then we need to be prepared to live very differently – different from how we used to live – different from how the world around us lives.

And so that’s what we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks as we’ve been going through this message series – which we’ve titled “Kingdom Living”.

What is God’s will for us in how we should live? If Jesus is our King and His will is good and pleasing and perfect, it would seem to me that we would want his will to be done on earth and in our lives and in our community – just as it is in heaven. And if so, then what is that good and pleasing and perfect will for us? How does He want us to live? What does Kingdom Living look like?

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Thy Kingdom Come

Last week we began exploring the differences between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. And they are very different.

We noted that Jesus frequently told parables about the kingdom of God to help us understand what it’s like because it is so different from the kingdom of this world. In fact, from what Jesus says, it almost seems backwards and upside down. For example, Jesus says in the kingdom of God, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first. He says that if you want to be great, you must become the least – if you want to save your life, you’ve got to give it up – if you want true riches, give away what you have”. It seems like the kingdom of God operates exactly opposite to what we’re used to. 

Actually, let me show you a verse from Matthew chapter 5 – verse 11. I didn’t read this verse last week, but I think it illustrates how backwards the kingdom of God seems to be.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” Matthew 5:11-12

Usually, you might say God has blessed you when you have a nice house, a healthy family, wonderful friends, a good job, and life is going swimmingly. We see all that and we say, “Yup, God sure has blessed me.”

But Jesus says that when people are mocking us, persecuting us, lying about us, and saying all sorts of evil things about us because we are His followers – that’s when we know we are blessed. I don’t know if that sort of stuff has ever happened to you, but if and when it does, that’s when you can say “Yup, God sure has blessed me.”

And that just seems backwards! It’s clear that the kingdom of God is very different from the kingdom of this world.

And that creates a huge challenge for us because Jesus says that those who follow Him – those who are a part of the kingdom of God – those people are in this world, but we’re not of this world.

We live here in our communities in this time and place and in this society – but we belong to a totally different kingdom with totally different values and a totally different culture. Paul tells us that we used to be part of that kingdom, but upon receiving Christ as our Saviour and King, we’ve since been transferred into a whole new kingdom. He says in Colossians 1:13…

13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son. Colossians 1:13

When choose to follow Christ, we are transferred from one kingdom to the other – from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God. 

And so it is a huge challenge for us to live according to the values and the culture of kingdom of God while still living in the midst of the kingdom of this world. 

But believe it or not, that’s exactly God’s plan and purpose for those in his kingdom. That was God’s plan and purpose for Israel – and that’s still the plan and purpose for church.

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