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. We’ll get into that today and we’ll probably talk about that for the next couple of weeks, but first, let me recap what we’ve been talking about in the weeks previous to this.
For the past several weeks we’ve been talking about Kingdom Living – and we’ve been looking at how life in the Kingdom of God is very different from life in the Kingdom of this world.
When we became followers of Jesus, it’s like we immigrated to another country. Colossians 1:13 says…
“For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.” Colossians 1:13
So as followers of Christ, we now live in a totally different culture that operates by different laws and different values and even, as we saw a couple weeks ago, a different system of economics.
God’s will for how we are to live in His Kingdom is so very different from what we see around us. Which makes this all very challenging because we live in this world – in our society and in our current Canadian culture – but in the midst of all that, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. In fact, we are not only citizens, but we are ambassadors for the Kingdom of God. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
So we’re not just citizens – we’re ambassadors. A couple weeks ago we talked about how God has invited us to join him in bringing restoration to this sin-damaged world. We asked the questions: Why me? Why here? What task has God uniquely prepared me for by placing me where I am right today? How is God inviting me to be part of His work of restoration?
A big part of that, I think, is just being an ambassador of Christ where we are. When we live differently in the kingdom of God, people can see God’s work of restoration and reconciliation in us. People can see that we are a new person, as Paul pointed out. The old life is gone – a new life has begun.
So different is good. (I think that’s the Arby’s slogan from the 90s – Different is Good.) When we live differently in the kingdom of God, we are living illustrations of God’s reconciliation and restoration. We’re showing the people around us that there is a different way to live – God’s way – and God’s way is good and pleasing and perfect.
And so that brings me to our topic today: the pause button of life – or as the Bible calls it – The Sabbath. Sabbath is certainly one of those very different things that is quite contrary and quite strange to the wisdom of the world. In fact, even in Christian circles the practice of the Sabbath has highly debated particularly in the last 50 years in western civilization – but this was even an issue that Jesus had to address 2000 years ago.
And so I think it’s important that we address this issue today – and I think it fits right in with our question of Kingdom Living – how does God want us to live differently in his kingdom?
But I have to be honest with you. I have never preached on the topic of the Sabbath before – for a couple reasons: #1. Because I haven’t always thought it was important. For most of my life, I considered Sabbath to be a non-issue. It was a old Jewish thing – not applicable to me. It fit right in with those laws in the Old Testament about not boiling a young goat in it’s mother’s milk. It wasn’t really a concern for me.
The second reason I haven’t preached on this before is because it is highly controversial and for a long time, I hadn’t really been sure where I stood on it. This whole topic of the Sabbath really started coming coming to the forefront of my life only about 10 years ago when I became friends with my dry-waller in Mirror.
This fellow was not a Christian at this time and had been sending his daughter to our kids club and he started asking lots of questions about Christianity and what I believed and such. He even started attending church for a while. Well, several of his neighbours were Seventh Day Adventists and as he talked to them, he started asking lots of questions about the Sabbath. As you might know, one of the distinctives of the Seventh-Day Adventists is that they strictly follow the rules of the Sabbath from the Old Testament – and they insist that Saturday is the only acceptable Sabbath day – and so they worship together on Saturdays and do no work that day.
And so my friend began asking why our church didn’t follow commandment #4 of the 10 commandments – which is “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” So anyway, that’s what caused me to first start digging into this whole topic of the Sabbath. And basically, my study at that time was based around the question of “Should we worship on Saturdays or Sundays or does it matter?”
But since then, particularly in the last 6 months, God has stirred me to start looking at the Sabbath again – and not as a question of ‘what day should we worship’ – but rather, “What is God’s purpose for the Sabbath? Why did he make that one of the ten commandments for the Israelites and is there an elements of ‘remembering the Sabbath Day’ that we have forgotten?”
So that’s what I want to look at for the next couple weeks – this will kinda be a sub-series within this series, but I think it most certainly fits this whole theme of Kingdom Living.
To get us started, I want to take a look at some of the primary Scriptures where it talks about the Sabbath. Where do we get this whole idea anyway? Well, probably the most obvious place to start is indeed the 10 commandments found in Exodus 20.
So just to give you the context, this is just after God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He was bringing them out to give them their own land – He would be their God and they would be his people. They were to be the ‘Kingdom of God’ quite literally and most of Exodus and Leviticus lays out how they were to operate in this kingdom. And so in Exodus 20, God begins laying out these foundational principles and instructions.
Now I find it helpful to remember that the Israelites had just come out of 400 years of living in Egypt. The Egyptian culture and way of life was all they had known for generations. I imagine that most of us haven’t had our families living in Canada for more than 150 years, but we’re certainly very Canadian, aren’t we? And these guys had been emerged in Egyptian culture for 400 years! They were just as Egyptian-y as the Egyptians.
So most of what God was telling them here was completely contrary to what they knew. If we think life in the kingdom of God is different for us, life in the kingdom of God was going to be completely foreign to them! Let me read the first three verses of Exodus chapter 20.
Then God gave the people all these instructions:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
3 “You must not have any other god but me.
This is very different from what they knew. Egyptians had all kinds of gods – over 2000 different gods, I believe. And here, God says “You must have no other god but me.” That was a totally foreign concept for these Israelites. The Egyptians had different gods for everything – but the Israelites were only to have one God? Just one? That doesn’t seem to be nearly enough!? But I wonder if, in this command, God was correcting their faulty Egyptian thinking so that they understood that there was only one true God. They didn’t need a sun god and a rain god and a whatever else God – their God was the one true God – sovereign over everything. And then God continues. He says in verse 4:
4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.
So here God says “You must not make any idols or images depicting anything as a god.” Egypt is famous even today for it’s depiction of their gods. We see paintings and carvings and statues of their sun god Ra or all these other ones. So for the Israelites not to paint or carve or make a statue of their God – that went completely against everything they knew about how to worship a god. But again, perhaps God was correcting their faulty Egyptian thinking about who God is. God is not a created being. He’s not an animal or a twinkling star or anything in Creation – He is the Creator of Creation and nothing in Creation can depict Him.
So having noted all that, let’s jump down to this commandment here about Sabbath in verse 8.
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. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
Here we see that they were to work for six days and then stop and rest on the seventh – and again, this was a very foreign idea. It was foreign for Egyptians who were very industrious, but this was especially foreign for the Israelites because they had been slaves for the past who-knows-how-many years. As slaves, all they did was work all day every day. The idea of resting for one full day every week was very different to say the least.
And I wonder if there is an element here of correcting more faulty thinking as well?
In the eyes of the Egyptians, the Israelites were only valued for their labor. Their worth came from what they did – what they could accomplish for Egyptians. That was the main reason Pharaoh didn’t want to let them go in the first place – they were getting a lot of work done for him. Look at Moses & Aaron’s first encounter with Pharaoh in Exodus chapter 5, verse 3….
But Aaron and Moses persisted. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us,” they declared. “So let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness so we can offer sacrifices to the Lord our God. If we don’t, he will kill us with a plague or with the sword.”
4 Pharaoh replied, “Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their tasks? Get back to work! 5 Look, there are many of your people in the land, and you are stopping them from their work.” Exodus 5:3-5
You can see that Pharaoh only saw the Israelites as a tremendous workforce. That’s likely how most of the Egyptians saw the Israelites, and I imagine that after years of being seen that way, even the Israelites themselves may have started to believe that too.
So perhaps the Sabbath was a correction of that faulty-kind of thinking. By instructing the Israelites to stop all of their work on the seventh day, God was reminding them (every week) that their value was not found in what they did. Their work, while an important part of life, did not define their life. They were just as valuable to God while resting as they were while working.
Now I’m not saying that this reminder was the primary purpose of the Sabbath – I think there are many good reasons for why God instituted the Sabbath (and we’re going to get to those over these next few weeks) – but this is at least one aspect that came to mind as I read through these ten commandments and I think it’s very applicable to us.
I think we often have very similar thinking – that our value to God and to others comes from what we do. In our culture today, so much of our identity is wrapped up in what we do. That’s often the first question we ask when we strike up a conversation – “So what do you do?” And immediately we try to figure out the hierarchy of who’s more important or successful or whatever.
When I worked in the greenhouse west of town years here years ago, it was hard to see myself as being valuable and important in that job. I was just moving trays of plants all day around for crying out loud – any monkey could do that. I felt much more valuable and important later when I started working for camp doing the followup program. I had a much better title – follow-up director!
I felt more important, but in the sight of God, did my value or importance change when I changed work? No, of course not. God’s love for me and my value to Him has not changed since the time he first thought of creating me.
4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:4-5
That’s pretty incredible. Even before God created the world, God decided to love you and to adopt you into his family. In fact, he was thrilled to do that. And there is nothing in that verse – in fact, nothing in the Bible – that would indicate that God’s love is dependant on what we do. We are valuable and important to God – loved by him – simply because He decided to love us.
Don’t be misled to think that your value comes from what you do – what you accomplish. You are infinitely valuable just because God created you and loves you.
Babies don’t accomplish anything of value – and we sure love them.
It doesn’t matter if your a ditch-digger or a wealthy businessman. It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home parent or unemployed or retired. For that matter it doesn’t matter if you are old, sickly and weak – laying in bed for the last 20 years of your life or if your a tiny fetus only minutes old – you are infinitely valuable.
And the Sabbath is a great reminder of that. For those Israelites, every seven days, everyone stopped doing. It was the great equalizer. On that day everyone accomplished the same amount – nothing. The business owners, the elderly, kids, the stay-at-home moms, the construction workers, the king. Everyone accomplished nothing according to God’s command – and they were still all equally valuable and important.
I think this is yet another example where life in the Kingdom of God is very different from life in the kingdom of this world.
Our world puts tremendous significance and weight in accomplishment. And I’m not saying accomplishment is bad in itself, but it has become one of our gods. We build our lives around our accomplishments. We gain our identity from our accomplishments. We gain our worth from our accomplishments. We worship accomplishment.
When we work 60-80 hours a week, when our schedules are packed, when we’re always doing something – we feel important. We take pride in how busy we are – how many emails we have to answer – how many text messages we get.
But in the Kingdom of God, that’s just not a factor. In fact, many times I think that busy-iness – that constant activity distracts us and keeps us from the life that God intended us to live.
God created us for relationships – both with Him and with others. And our busyness often undermines our ability to really develop and enjoy those relationships. Deep meaningful relationships take time, and time seems to be a pretty rare commodity these days. Perhaps the Sabbath is God’s built-in way of insuring that we don’t neglect that which is most important.
Could you imagine if you took a full day every week just to build and enjoy the relationships you have? What if you didn’t have to go to work, didn’t have to clean the house, didn’t have to be productive in any way? But instead you could just enjoy that day with your spouse or with your kids or with your friends & neighbours – and with God? I wonder how that would impact your relationships with all those different people? I would guess it would be significant.
I know many of us struggle to find time to read our Bible and pray and just spend any significant time with God – what if we had a whole day for that? Many of us struggle to find time to date our spouse – it’s hard to schedule time just to be with each other – to talk and do things together, but what if we had a whole day for that? Many of us hardly see our kids – between work and school and every other activity under the sun – wouldn’t it be great to have a whole day dedicated to being with family?
It seems to me that the Sabbath is an incredible gift. God has given us permission to stop and rest and to take time for our relationships on a regular basis. He has assured us that our worth and our value doesn’t come from our activity or our accomplishments or our busyness. He loves us for just being. And he invites us to cease from our activity and just enjoy being with Him and with others.
In a frantic-paced, non-stop world, that seems pretty inviting.
So to conclude today, I’m not going to give you any practical application at this point. I usually like to do that, but I feel we’ve hardly scratched the surface so far. But hopefully I’ve at least stirred your curiosity about this pause-button of life that God’s come up with. It should give you some things to think about this week. We’re going to try to dig into it a lot more in these next few weeks. I won’t promise that we’ll answer all your questions, but at least we can start asking the questions and we can work through them together.