There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God Hebrews 4:9
For some of us, when we hear about observing the Sabbath we conjure up a black and white photograph of people sitting around, dressed in suits and staring blankly off into space. But when God rested on His special day after finishing all of His amazing creation, it was something He delighted in. God was able to pause and enjoy the beauty of all His creation. There were cloud topped mountains to see and roaring waterfalls to hear, mighty rivers to splash in, and millions of stars to explore. But, most of all God delighted in the people who He had made in His own image. God came down in the cool of the day to enjoy time with Adam and Eve.
Nowhere in all this do we see anything dull or boring. In fact we find out that:
Mark 2:27 ….. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
The Sabbath was meant as a gift to be shared between God and man. God wasn’t looking forward to see how much work that Adam and Eve could do. Instead, He set aside a special day to enjoy their relationship. It was almost like time to play. Play is about just enjoying time together. Our struggle with taking a day to rest is not that we forgot how to rest, but that we forgot how to enjoy God’s presence. So, how can we begin to think and act differently about doing what God created us to do? Here are just a few creative ideas.
Reserving a table: When you want to go to the best restaurants you can’t just walk in any time and expect to find a table. It pays to plan ahead and get your reservation. If you don’t then someone else will already be seated at that special table by the fireplace you were hoping for. It is the same with our time with God. Everyone wants our time. If they think it is okay to take it on Sunday they won’t at all think twice about it. My wife has taught me some lessons on that. Because I run a business we get calls at our home all the time. Should you be the one who decides that Sunday afternoon is a dandy time to call you will hear something like this, “You’ve got six other days to talk to my husband about work. This is our day for God and for time with our family. Thank you and have a great day!” Things that are rare have great value and you will begin to realize just how valuable that day is when you reserve it for God.
Slowing things down: Ever hear the old expression “Sunday driver” ? That meant someone who was just out to enjoy looking at the scenery and they were driving slowly. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing to try. Instead of zooming off after church to a day filled with activities, maybe take a long slow drive in the country. Go somewhere you haven’t been before. Take off your shoes and put your feet in a stream. Spend some non-organized time with the family away from all the pressures. We are wound so tightly that it almost seems like a sin to not be running off to some planned activity. Can you remember far enough back to that first day of Summer vacation when you were young? Thinking of all that time was like prying open a treasure chest that held all the delicious unscheduled days.
Listening: Elijah the prophet was a man of both action and faith. He had done more than any of the other prophets before him, but in his own eyes all that activity had ended in failure. He went out into the wilderness, sat under a tree and prayed for God to take his life. Instead of answering that prayer, God gave Elijah a time of rest. Elijah lay down and slept until God sent an angel who baked bread for him and brought Him a cup of cool water. Then instead of jumping right back into action, Elijah slept again till the angel woke him a second time to give him more. Finally after 40 days of silent traveling Elijah was ready to come and hear from the Lord. First God sent a hurricane force wind, but God was not in the wind. Then God sent a strong earthquake, but He wasn’t in the quake. Last God sent a fire, but God wasn’t even in the fire. Then finally God came and spoke with Elijah in a still small voice. Now Elijah was ready to listen.
That is what the Sabbath is all about. Reserving time to be with Jesus, slowing things down and allowing God to prepare us to listen. God wants to share His thoughts and heart with us. If it has been a while since you had the chance to really enjoy the day God made as a gift for us, then launch out and see what new things that God will begin to do for you. Just as we would never forget to open a Christmas present, so let’s tear off the wrapping paper and begin to experience the blessing of the Sabbath that God has made for us.
What ever happened to Sunday? Have you ever seen the bumper sticker, usually on a particularly pricey RV that says, “We are spending our children’s inheritance!” ? I have never cared for the concept behind that joke and on the spiritual level even less so.
I fondly remember the walks I once took with my Grandfather, who I called “Cap-Cap” as my four-year old attempt at Captain Detzer came out. He would hold my small hand and we would walk the two blocks to pick up his Sunday paper at the news store in town. It was always such an amazingly quiet morning. Hardly a car passed on the usually busy Main street of our New England town. All the other businesses were closed except for the drugstore/news stand where Cap-Cap bought his Sunday Times. There was a wonderful sense of awe and delight in the quiet pause it gave to life. No one’s affairs were so urgent that they couldn’t be put on a 24 hour hold. That made Sunday such a special time. After church there was always a lunch of pancakes and sausage that Gammy would make us and then a whole afternoon of doing nothing but playing quietly out in the back yard with my cousins.
In the book of Isaiah God talks about the Sabbath. Today I am afraid that even within the church we have lost the concept of Sabbath…
Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. Isaiah 58:13
When God finished creating the world He paused, delighted in it and then He blessed that special day. Last of all God set aside the Sabbath and gave it to us as our inheritance. In most states in the U.S. we have a chain called 7/11. The store was so named because it had the amazing concept of being open for the extended hours of 7 AM to 11 PM. But, today the stores are open 24/7 and 365 days per year. The joke is that since it is always open, why do they have locks on the door?
The 23rd Psalm has in its verses the core of why God gave us a special day to remember to rest, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” In fact the Sabbath is God’s picture of His grace. Hebrews 4:10 For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world.
God didn’t rest on the seventh day because He was tired! God rested because He was finished. He paused and looked over everything. God took the day to enjoy everything. Then God rested. The world’s way of thinking is all about work – work – work, but God’s grace is all about pause, delight, and rest. Our lives need that moment when like the dove that Noah sent out from the ark, we find a place to rest and when we do we will be able to carry in our hearts the Olive branch of God’s amazing and wonderful peace! As Christians it is a precious part of our inheritance that we have the great privilege of passing on to our children. We need to be careful that we haven’t spent the treasure of God’s Holy day on ourselves. This inheritance from God is something rare and in danger of being abandoned and forgotten. In all our busyness God has a plan for rest and refreshment. When we finish the course God has laid out for our lives will our children and grandchildren have special memories that we have passed on to them?
Isaiah 58:14 Then the Lord will be your delight.
I will give you great honor
and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”
Who is Tad? That is the wrong question to start our adventure. We need to ask. .. what is a Tad anyhow? A Tad is something small.. .. very small; like a little bigger than a smidgen, but not as big as itty-bitty. Tad is our friend and sometime hero in the flock of Bill; who is a sheep rancher in Montana. You see, Tad is a lamb… maybe not quite a baby anymore, but not quite a teen-ager yet either. Tad is also smart and in fact Tad thinks he is the smartest sheep in the flock; and maybe he knows a thing or two that Bill doesn’t. What do you think? Well…I’ll let you decide during our first story. Pull off your boots, put your feet up and enjoy your visit. Now, we’re off to our first meeting with the flock. Not too many days ago in Western Montana Tad began life in the flock of a young rancher named Bill. Bill had grown up in the East in the big city
of Washington, D. C. He had spent most of his school days just putting his head down on his folded arms and looking out the window. Bill’s teacher might be teaching. let’s say math, and working really hard to teach him fractions; but Bill’s mind was far from the world of dusty dry numbers and neat rows of desks. Bill knew that somewhere out beyond the cars and trucks and buses that there just had to be somewhere with fresh clean air to breath and quietness in which to think his own thoughts. It was a day just like that in the third grade in geography that Bill first heard about Montana. Even the sound of that word MONTANA why that sounded different…and he heard it was a BIG STATE. That sounded pretty good too. He was sure there must be a lot more room in Montana than where he was living. Bill learned that Montana was the third largest state after Alaska and Texas. He also learned that there was no speed limit on the highways. That sounded pretty good too, not that he was old enough to drive but a place that let you use your own common sense seemed like where he wanted to be. And how did our Bill get to Montana ranching sheep? That all began the summer when Bill was in 6th grade. It was near the end of the school year and just one of those days that was warm enough to make you wish summer vacation had already started. Bill’s Dad had something to tell him that day as he walked in the door from school. “Put your books down for now Bill. ” his Dad had said. “You can work on your homework later.” Bill came and sat down in a chair in his Dad’s office wondering what was up. “Listen, Bill, Mom and I have been talking about what we all might want to do this Summer. You might not remember this but your Uncle Pete moved out to Montana just before you were born. We haven’t heard a lot from him but we have kept in touch with him out on his sheep ranch. Well anyway, last week Uncle Pete called and we got to talking about you and he wondered if you’d be interested in coming out this summer. You know, learning about the ranch and helping with chores.”
Bill’s eyes focused hard on the floor tracing the pattern on the carpet while his mind raced. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and shifted back and forth from one foot to the other. “Well, what do you think? You’d be missing out on our family vacation, but it might be something you’d like.” Bill loved Dad and didn’t want to make him feel badly but on the inside he was jumping up and down just imagining the wide open spaces, the horses, the …”Bill? Bill?” Dad called. “What do you think?””I think it’d be great Dad!” he blurted out. Really? I can go by myself for the Summer? What’s Uncle Pete like?”
So it was that after a very long flight Bill first set foot off the plane in Missoula, Montana. It was hours more riding in Uncle Pete’s pick-up truck, till they finally pulled
up in front of the old sprawling ranch house. Bill knew then that somehow, one day it would be his home. Now we come to the first year of our young hero’s life (Tad, remember him?) Tad was born in the Spring. Unlike many of his cousins, Tad was an only child. He seemed pretty
ordinary to about everyone except his mother, Beatrice. She knew from the end of that first week that Tad, this strong-willed, hard-headed lamb was different from all her
others in the past. When Beatrice nudged Tad to the left ..Tad wanted to go right. When Mom wanted Tad to lie down for a nap, well you know it.. Tad wanted to bounce around the pasture and play. “Oh well.” mother Beatrice would groan. “One day, he’ll grow up and settle down to being a nice and easy lamb like all the others.” But Tad was about anything but nice and easy. As the days rolled by, mother Beatrice began to wonder if her patience and energy would hold out long enough to see Tad grow up.
The day this adventure begins, Tad is a little older. Not a new-born anymore. This day as Tad wakes up, he rolled over leaped to his little hoofs and somehow knew that something new was coming. Bill was mounted on his horse in the pasture and with the sheep dogs was rounding up the flock. “Maaa …Maaaa. “Tad called to Beatrice. “What’s going on Maaa?” Beatrice sleepily rolled over and stood up shaking her head. “Oh Tad, it’s nothing new.” she said. “Well maybe to you it’s new but Bill is taking us down from the summer pasture today to the valley where we’ll be safe from the storms. Every year about this time he leads us into the quieter valley. It’ll be a long journey today but we should be there before dark.” Tad didn’t think he liked the sound of this. He had known only sunny hilltops, where he’d run and played and slept for his few months of life. Tad felt in charge and happy in his world. Now that world was spinning suddenly out of his control and he was afraid.While all the other lambs and the grown up sheep were nudging closer together’ getting ready for the journey, Tad was stiff leggedly shifting back and forth glancing quickly to his right, then to his left, thinking ..thinking of a scheme of escape. “Tad!” his mother called. “Come back over here with the rest of the family.” “Oh all right Maaa!” Tad said sulkily. Then as the flock began to move around the first bend in the path leading down the hillside, Tad spotted a large pile of boulders off to the side. And somewhere in that group of boulders, Tad remembered a hiding place where he had hidden from his Mother only the week before. Tad shouldered his way quickly to the inside of the flock turning a deaf ear to his mother’s calls. With a sigh she shook her head as he disappeared among the other sheep. “That Tad, what could he be up to now. ” she groaned. Tad was already nearly out of sight between two large rocks. The other sheep around him had hardly noticed as they were all just minding their own business and looking ahead, down the trail to the valley. “Free at last!” Tad nearly squealed to himself in delight at his trickery. Soon the barking of the dogs, the nagging tone of his mother’s call and the pounding of rancher Bill’s horse were just a memory. Now the peace of the late summer day surrounded him. Tad bounded out into the vacant pasture. He jumped and twisted and ran to his heart’s content. There were no older voices to tell him to ‘keep it down’ or ‘come sit here quietly like the other lambs’ . Now Tad was going to do what Tad wanted to do! Soon he was worn out and after lapping some fresh water from the mountain stream, Tad lay down for a rest in the best spot in the pasture not to be wakened till he felt like it. As he slept he dreamed he was a full-grown ram and in charge of his own flock; giving the orders, and waited on by the smaller sheep. Tad the Ram didn’t need dogs or rancher Bill or anyone else to tell him anything anymore. In his dream though he suddenly began to feel cold.-very cold–colder than he had ever felt in his young life, and then …..what was that sound? A crack of thunder and a flash of lightening woke Tad to a rapidly darkening sky. Around him a cold and vicious wind began to blow. The sky grew blacker and blacker with storm clouds and a few drops of icy rain began to fall. Far away in the valley below, Bill was just putting the flock into the corral next to the barn for the night. As he heard the thunder and saw the lightening he thought to himself, “What a storm up on the mountain tonight.” Then he muttered to no one in particular, “Looks like we got down just in time.” As he was just closing the gate he happened to notice Beatrice alone off to the side of the rest of his sheep. He knew she had had a lamb this Spring and wondered why it was not by her. Quickly in the fading light he looked through the small flock and noticed that Tad had been left behind! “Only one thing to do now.” Bill thought to himself Hopes of a good hot cup of coffee and a well deserved, early to bed, were now gone from Bill’s plans. He grabbed his biggest flashlight and jumped back up on his horse and headed wearily back up the darkening mountain trail. On the mountain top, our once brave and rebellious hero is now running madly in circles. Every time another streak of lightning smashes to the ground he leaps high into the air calling for help. “Maaa …Maaa ..Billl ..Maaa ..Baaa Hooo Baaa Hooo” He cries and races around, more tired than he has ever been in his little life. In his wild running he doesn’t notice but he has come to the edge of the pasture where a large clump of thick thorn bushes were growing. With his next leap he lands right into the center of one and his wet wool becomes hopelessly tangled in its grip. The more Tad twists and pulls the more ensnared he gets. “Bill! Bill! Bill!” Tad hopelessly calls out. But in his heart he knows that Bill is far away, safe and warm and dry with all his family in the valley below. All the feelings of how smart he was seem pretty stupid now and he sinks exhausted into the thorns too weak to fight any more. Just as Tad lay limply in terrified silence he heard the beat of horses hooves on the ground nearby and the voice of Bill calling, “Tad! Tad!” “Bill! Bill!” Tad pitifully cried from the thicket. Soon the horses hooves stopped just outside the thicket. Bill’s flashlight pierced the dark bushes. “Bill!” Tad called out. In a moment Bill’s strong hands gently began to pull his wool from the thorns and big arms picked him up and carried him to the horse. Then they began happily riding down the trail as the thunder storm passed into the distance. Tad had never been so happy to be a part of the smartest and bravest Rancher’s flock in the world.
Matthew 18:12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray; does he not leave the ninety nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he finds it assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your father who is in heaven that one of these little one’s should perish.
1 Corinthians 3:7-8 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.
I was listening in church to a message the other night as this scripture was read. It seemed that those familiar words just jumped out at me and got the wheels of my mind spinning. The planting of seeds has a special meaning to me, since I have spent most of my life in some form of gardening or farming. The large majority of those in our church don’t have a close connection to the soil. They often have an overly romantic view of farming and of the planting of seeds in particular. They think of the beautiful pictures of someone with a bag of seed strolling through a field tossing seed in every direction. The reality of planting however, has nothing to do with such mythical moments. Paul had it exactly right as he says “They will both be rewarded for their hard work“. Yes planting seeds is hard work! Before a single seed can be invested in a field the soil must be prepared. It doesn’t matter how good your seed is, if it is thrown out on hard unprepared ground it will be bird food in minutes. First the soil must be turned. In Paul’s day a farmer of means would have done that with his ox pulling a plow. There are no easy days plowing.
Later on Paul says that they who are plowing get through the hard labor because they have a hope to share in the harvest. Yes it is a hard day in the Spring when the rocks and the weeds are battling for possession of the place where the seeds are to be planted. There is not even a hint of the harvest at seed-time. All the plowing and planting is done in faith, that at the just right time there will be a reward.
Proverbs 11:30 tell us that The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who wins souls is wise…
Winning souls is not any more luck than the crop of corn that our local farmers are beginning to harvest. It will take not only all our hearts, but also all our mind and strength to be a good planter of God’s seed. Before the very first furrow is plowed there is in the mind of the farmer a plan of just how that field will be laid out. In the same way if we will commit to the hard work of soul winning we need to begin with a plan.
First, stay focused on the people who God has already brought into your life. God knows exactly what He is doing. The people we live next to, work with or meet by “chance” in the normal activities of our life are souls for whom Jesus gave His life. God may love the whole world, but He gives us people to love and share His message with one by one. Don’t be distracted by programs and gimmicks. Someone once was anxious to supply me with the “Four Spiritual Laws” in various languages to give to exchange students. These students were being placed into Christian homes around our community. While I appreciated the concern on the part of the person offering, I had to explain, “We don’t need to give out the Four Spiritual Laws, we need to be them!”
Just as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we will come across the right people. If we are willing we will have our chance to share the love of God and His message of salvation. If we will make it our prayer, every day, to share the message of Jesus Christ, He will take us up on our offer! God is absolutely committed to the salvation of people who live in our neighborhood. God also has a strange way of leading us to those we might find pretty unlikely candidates. The Good Samaritan found a Jew. Philip the Evangelist (a nice Jewish boy) was told to run after the chariot of an Ethiopian. The apostle Peter was challenged to go beyond his prejudices and to go eat with Gentiles. Jonah almost never even started his ministry when God showed him who He had in mind! Who is God bringing into your path this week? Ask Him to help you to be open. Stay focused on the needs of the people Jesus puts into your life. Don’t waste time, energy or money trying to find a short cut. Farmers who take short cuts at seed-time often end up with crop failure. God has supplied us with the finest seed and He deserves our all in planning, preparing and planting it in the hearts He brings our way.
While we enjoy peace and acceptance here in the west our brothers and sisters in many countries are suffering relentless persecution. In the words of C S Lewis, “You’re a family aren’t you? Maybe it’s time you started acting like one!”
As one family in Christ the least we can do is pray.