Pastor Chuck's Takeaway

Monday morning theological reflections


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You NEED an Inner Circle

What is this? There are times in his ministry when Jesus takes only his inner circle with him to share significant experiences. Peter, James, and John accompany Our Lord to the top of Mt. Tabor for the Transfiguration, to the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader, to raise his daughter from the dead, and to the Garden of Gethsemane to keep watch the night before his crucifixion. Given the magnitude and miracles involved, these are way beyond significant. Peter, James, and John are Jesus’ inner circle, this is his personal posse within the larger group of disciples. An inner circle is defined as a small, intimate group, more of “my people” and less of “clique” as I am using it. In the last six months, I have become a member of two small groups. One is an eclectic collection of pastors, from different traditions with diverse personalities and varied faith stories. We meet monthly and our agenda is mostly to share what is going on in our ministries, families, and our own souls. This group has been an absolute godsend, I had not realized how much I needed a healthy colleague group. Just by the nature of pastoral work, it is a lonely profession. People will unload their troubles, confessions, and fears. Your responsibility is to keep that confidential and you do carry that load, no matter how well you are able to compartmentalize. With these colleagues who understand the struggles and stresses, I feel free to let go of the pastor role. That is hard to do.

What does this mean? That is an essential element of an inner circle, a safe place with safe people where vulnerability is possible and grace is evident. Jesus’ inner circle was a safe place or at least they had the freedom to fail. They all fall asleep at Gethsemane and Peter denies Jesus three times. This morning I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I do this a couple times a year to remember my family history of alcohol. I am always refreshed with the raw honesty and humble nature of AA. These people are in the fight of their lives, so they come together with fellow survivors urgently trying to follow the 12 steps, are accountable to each other, and continue in recovery. Always amazes me how prevalent Higher Power is in AA conversation, which I, of course, believe to be Jesus Christ. The Church has much to learn from AA about small group ministry. I also meet with a group of men from our church that are trying to grow in faith and character. We use an article on a topic like regrets or legacy as the basis for our study, then try to share insights and offer comments to build up the group. This is a more directed agenda, where our common purpose is to not just share but to intentionally move forward in our life of faith. Like an AA meeting, a key theme has been, as our trust level progresses, to call out one another’s or confess our own arrogance. Time and again, at the heart of these inner circles it is so essential to learn humility and be transparent. Only then are you actually teachable, available to learn something, maybe even change.

What is the takeaway? In Genesis, God says it is not good for man or woman to be alone. This is not just about marriage, it’s also about community. For most of us, we have a crowd where we circulate, like church, school, or workplace. Genesis is talking about more intimate relationship needs. You and I need an inner circle, a band of brothers or an assembly of sisters, a small group you can call “my people”. Whether you are a parent, pastor, or plumber, you need a safe place with select people who you know are on your side. Getting together with your crew can be like a time-out from all your demands, duties, and difficulties. My son, Mark, has a regular Friday afternoon appointment in Silverdale with his ABA therapist. While he is at his therapy I am often at my therapy session eating chicken wings with some old friends from my former congregation. This group is more about fellowship than faith formation, more focused on laughing than learning. This group of guys is just for fun, to catch up, inhale the wings, and remember the we were cool, we are cool, and we will always be cool, or so we tell each other. With all these small groups, where do I find the time and energy to accomplish pastoral tasks, take care of family responsibilities, and make a living?! Well, my answer is without my inner circles, I don’t believe I could be a good pastor, fulfill my obligations as a father and husband, and have much fun making a living. Who is your inner circle? Who are those people you can really count on? When you are lonely (and we all get lonely) whose company do you seek? If Jesus had an inner circle, you need an inner circle.


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Cutting Ourselves off from Creation?

What is this? When I was growing up in suburban Chicago, our family lived on six acres and had lots and lots of critters; four horses, two dogs, 10-12 chickens, a sheep, 8-10 cats, and even a runaway or rogue turkey who joined our chickens on their roost. Testing, messing and blessing the animals was a highlight of my adolescent day. During the summer, like many of you, I was gone all day swimming, playing sports, and getting into trouble. With my trusty red Schwinn with the cool banana seat I would cross the highway to the badlands to be with the bad boys of Wildwood subdivision. Nowadays, our family and my children are securely shielded and sheltered in our suburban cocoon with three big screen (32-inch used to be a big screen). We are located two blocks from Target and three Starbucks, a quarter-mile from Costco, and half-mile from the Y. It is all quite convenient and consumer-friendly, but we have cut ourselves off from critters, creation, and even yard work. The Homeowners Association has a crew that comes in and tidies, trims, and manicures the grounds back to HGTV quality, kind of like the night-cleaning crew at Disneyland that sterilizes the Happiest Place on Earth. Well, three years in Pleasantville and I am ready to revolt. I vow not to drive down to Target anymore. Kidding, we still walk the two blocks to Target. But, I miss the badlands and wild woods. There is something about our faith, our soul, our humanity, and our God that requires we spend time in the outdoors, commune with creation, and recapture the reality we are part of something bigger than we are, connected to God’s grand garden and cosmic playland.

What does this mean? Dr. Robert Louv wrote a controversial book, “Last Child in the Garden”, that makes the case our children suffer from “nature-deficit disorder”. He argues because parents are too fearful of the outdoors and it is all too easy to get caught-up in screen time, that our kids are lacking time in nature and an appreciation for creation. Further, Dr. Louv claims that our children pay a price, experience more depression and less health, as a result. He has his detractors, for sure, but there is something to this, and not just for the kids. As adults, families, and youth, being in creation restores us to sanity, puts us back in touch with our spiritual center, and locates us in relationship with Our Creator. Genesis tells us we are both created in the “image of God” (chapter 1) and from the “dirt of the earth” (chapter 2). We shouldn’t be surprised that living with our war on germs, climate-controlled everything, and partitioned off from the wild woods has blighted our souls. Tricia Gates Brown writes, “Species loneliness denotes the way human beings have cut themselves off from the nonhuman species inhabiting our world. In our desire for dominance and self-gratification we have put ourselves in solitary confinement, and in the worst cases, become tormentors (and terminators) of all things nonhuman. We have deprived ourselves of a love relationship with nonhumans (and God’s creation).” Strong words, for sure, but there is some hard truth there. It may be unintended and unnoticed or maybe we are just uncaring and unrepentant. Our lifestyle and consumption has made us lonely and our lack of creation care comes with a hefty price, if climate change is all we fear.

What is the takeaway? My mother use to say “What is to become of us?” Good question. It is refreshing to see pastors and churches are taking more of prophetic stand when it comes to creation care, it is a biblical concern. So many evangelicals hold on to an end-of-the-world theology that says the world is going to burn up or blow up soon and Jesus will bail us out of this mess at the rapture. That is just irresponsible. Revelation tells us Christ will indeed usher in a new heaven and a new earth. Meanwhile, instead of putting together timelines and blueprints from unrelated verses so we don’t get Left Behind, we should plunge into some of the really compelling yet mostly undiscovered Scripture about creation. Check out the end of the Book of Job. After Job has suffered so and debates his long-winded friends, beginning with chapter 38 God the Cosmic Artist shows up in a whirlwind. Annie Dillard comments on God’s rhetorical rampage describing his beloved creation, “The Creator loves pizzazz. The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font. The speech out of the whirlwind would seem to suggest that God does indeed exhibit a certain style, and admire it in the creatures”. We need to bond with that kind of bible lesson, it puts us in touch with “fear of the Lord” and deep goodness of creation. As for me, I have decided to go to the indoor Y less and start walking the hills, shores, and trails of the abundant Northwest more. Only in the wild woods can we rightly contemplate Psalm 8, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, WHAT IS MAN THAT YOU ARE MINDFUL OF HIM, THE SON OF MAN THAT YOU CARE FOR HIM? YOU MADE HIM A LITTLE LOWER THAN THE HEAVENLY BEINGS, AND CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR”. Amen.


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The Business of Busyness

What is this? My first Mexico mission trip, circa 1987, my friend Ken and I were trading off driving our 15 passenger van loaded with kids & hauling a trailer. Back in the day, it was truly the Wild, Wild West; driving single lane roads, dodging big trucks, alert to local drivers on a suicide mission, all while trying to stay together as a caravan. Ken is high-strung in the car. When in the passenger seat and a turn is coming up, his volume will escalate, “left, LEft, LEFT!!” or “no, No, NO!!”.  He’s more intense behind the wheel. When we finally arrived at our mission site, Ken’s eyes were bloodshot and we had to peel his fingers off the steering wheel. That is a good image for the busy schedules so many of us try to sustain. We have family counting on us, appointments to keep, work to to, friends to keep up with, church responsibilities, emails, texts, and calls to return, not to mention, get enough sleep, try our best to eat right, exercise, pray, and just plain survive. Just like my friend Ken, there we are clutching the steering wheel with bloodshot eyes, with grim determination to get to our destination. And if we miss a deadline, goal, or opportunity, our souls are in an uproar, “no, No, NO!, NOOOO!!. Yet, this is how we choose to live with a strangle hold on our time and tasks. Notice how when someone asks how you are doing the new stock answer, “Busy”, as if being busy was the equivalent of being worthy.

What does this mean? Why do we do this? Where is the joy? First, some basics, time is a gift from God, that you and I must manage. We are stewards of our time in the same way we are stewards of our money, health, relationships, and so on. Scripture mentions both Chronos and Kairos time. Chronos is chronological time, years, days, minutes we keep track of with calendars and clocks. Then there is Kairos time that essentially means “the time fulfilled”. This is God’s time, when God decides the time is right, such as when the Messiah is born in Bethlehem. Ecclesiastes says, “God has made everything beautiful in its time and put eternity into the hearts of men”. I remain unconvinced that time-saving devices save much time. They sure do cost money. There are robot vacuums, Fit-Bits, coffee pots with timers, and I just saw a new combo tread mill and computer desk (looks dumb!) Busyness has become a barometer of are we valuable enough, productive enough, and worth enough. David Zahl writes, “busyness remains attractive because it does double duty, allowing us to feel like we are advancing down life’s path while distracting us from other, less pleasant realities, like doubt, remorse, and death. When we move rapid-fire from task to task we minimize the mental space available for personal reflection and painful feelings, at the same time accruing extra points (being productive-valuable-worthy enough), whether it be material, emotional, or both.” Guilty! To motivate and move myself through the day, especially when I am dragging, I am constantly keeping score of what I’ve accomplished. As Paul Sehgal writes, “The most purely, proudly American genre of writing might be the to-do list”.

What is the takeaway? After experiencing six student suicides in a year, Penn University did an on-campus study to get to the bottom of the crisis. In the final report they cited “Penn Face” as ‘the practice of acting happy and self-assured when sad or stressed’. Their analysis surmised that students lived with the ‘perception that one has to be perfect in every academic, co-curricular, and social endeavor’. Thus they wore ‘Penn Face’ until some students couldn’t live with the pressure any longer. I would say that that kind of relentless pressure to look, work, and relate like you are perfect goes beyond Ivy League campuses. In the church, we can wear our “Sunday Face” like armor so others won’t see us sweat, sin, suffer, and especially as lazy. The impact of unremitting busyness is big-time- sleeplessness, heart disease, high blood pressure, shorter life spans, not to mention general exhaustion. So how do we get out of the business of busyness? How can we let go of our need to validate our life by performance? God’s answer to this age-old idolatry is the Sabbath, that literally means “to cease”. To honor one day in seven to stop running around like everything depends on you, it doesn’t. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and gives it for our sake, for our health and wholeness, physically as well as spiritually. It is so simple, even a pastor can enjoy Sabbath rest. Take one day, consider it your tithe of time to worship, rest, give thanks for stuff like time, just be, and be ruthless in keeping it. I have heard the Sabbath compared to a knuckleball in baseball, kind of slow, wobbly, and keeps us off-balance. Actually, that is from one of my sermons. In a world that keeps pressing, pushing, prodding, producing, and performing, we need the Sabbath Slowdown to save us!


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Religiosity Still Reigns

What is this? People who say that religion is declining, even dying in America are not seeing the bigger picture. Yes, worship attendance is down in most churches and when it comes to religious preference young people most often indicate “none”. What they are missing is that religious fervor has merely migrated to secular causes and activities. We have simply traded pieties, exchanged deep devotions. Our personal commitment and zealous energy is now directed to our politics, parenting, the environment, healthy living, the workplace, our pets, travel and leisure. Secular and sacred religion both have common elements; social organization with like-minded believers, feelings and motives like mystery, guilt, conviction, passion, and call to action, and a world view that provides purpose, gives meaning, and the justifying story of your life. I have a good friend who owns and operates a Harley Davidson repair shop so I have come to meet his circle of friends, a wonderful group of guys, so many of them clients. They wear the Harley jackets, t-shirts, and leathers, plan on the next day they can collectively “go for a ride”. They find great sport in ridiculing other motorcycle brands. They are very religious about their motorcycles. If I examine my own life, I find I am very religious about things like fitness, I go to the YMCA five or six times a week. I am zealous and passionate about travel, even competitive when others talk about all the places they have been, “I’ve been to Nepal (so there!)” Lately, I find myself getting as self-righteous as a Pharisee when a server wants to tell me what micro-brew to order. I can sound like an evangelist when the topic turns to prescriptions that I hardily endorse.

What does this mean? Jason Mitchell writes, “JUSTIFY is the key term. Our convictions about politics, our pets, climate change, or our investment in an exercise class are not forms of idolatry, but they could be. Rather, they are activities from which we are trying to derive our ultimate value. Religion is defined as what we lean on to tell us we’re okay, to attribute to ourselves that we are enough”. At first, that sounds a little extreme, “activities from which we are trying to derive our ultimate value”, “tell us we’re okay”, “attribute to ourselves that we are enough”. However, when you begin to count the cost, the time, and the investment of some of our “interests”, it is staggering. Caroline played volleyball on a traveling team for a season. It was like joining a cult; cost $$$$, sucked up the weekends, ridiculous expectations, and even the parents were a kooky clique. I do need to interject this, God has given us such a rich array of gifts, activities, work, and ways to play so we can enjoy, learn, and be blessed in this life. Amen. I delight in watching the NBA, having a cold beer with friends, seeing the Holy Land, swimming a few laps, and reading a good book. Yet, these good “horizontal” gifts were never, ever meant to be elevated to godlike importance. I confess the gift that presents itself as the greatest temptation as a means of justifying my life is the ministry. Retirement is not that far away and I am thinking that is going to be a very difficult transition for me. Ironic isn’t it, it is in serving the church, I am in danger of setting up my God-given call as my ultimate value, trying to confirm that I am enough and I am okay. Even sacred stuff can be an idol.

What is the takeaway? All these “horizontal” activities are good for earthly enjoyment and worldly fulfillment. However, we must turn to the “vertical” source and substance of God for our enoughness. Augustine famously said, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in God”. In 2019, we continue the restless quest for what only God can provide. The religious impulse is to “DO SOMETHING” to justify your life. For those inside the church or other religions in extremes can translate into keeping the rules, over volunteering, be consumed by a hyper-dogooderism, and make your home a monastery. Not much grace in that. For secular religions like politics, parenting, video gaming, and environmental concerns, it can be just as suffocating, self-righteous, dogmatic, and exhausting. Not much grace in that either. Participants are still trying to “DO SOMETHING” to justify their lives. Whatever your religion, you are subject to a law that says “DO THIS” and it is never, ever done enough. In what is a remarkably profound explanation of the power of addiction, Dr. Vincent Felitti writes, “It is hard to get enough of something that almost works”. That makes our problem sin, our compulsion to prove ourselves worthy, to do something that will assure we are okay. Fails every time. And insanity is doing to the same thing the same way and expecting different results. So that brings us back to grace. Christianity invites us to receive our enoughness, which is Christ’ own enoughness, as sheer gift. Our Christian practices and pieties are organic fruit of our enoughness, not the stuff by which we earn it. This is what Christmas comes down to, Jesus shows up. Being born among us the Christ child does something that justifies us, on the cross forgiving us, at the empty tomb destroying death so we can finally relax. By his grace alone, we are okay and enough.


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Faith Under Pressure

What is this? I was always turn up the volume for Queen’s classic, “Under Pressure” when it comes on the radio, “Pressure pushing down on me, pressing down on you….It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about, watching some good friends screaming, ‘LET ME OUT!” We are all under pressure, some of it of our making, some of it just the way life rolls, and there are seasons of life where you feel like screaming, “Let me Out!” I am not at that place (yet) but this fall there is lots of stuff and lots of stress. I’ll unpack that as we go along. Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food or clothes”. Paul flat out says, “Don’t worry about anything”. Is it blasphemy to find the advice almost laughable? Don’t worry about anything, it is so difficult not to worry about everything. Where to begin? Things at church are not just busy, but “crazy busy” as a friend likes to say. This is, for the most part, a good busy. We are in the midst of a capital campaign, experiencing growing pains, dealing with staff turnover, and some of our seemingly immortal saints are aging fast. Plus, I am always recruiting for our Mexico Mission trip to the orphanage next spring break (we still have room for you!) and trying to pressure additional pilgrims to join our Cities of Paul trip next summer (Come on, this is THEE pilgrimage. Family and friends welcome). Watching cable news is a real stresser, too. We are so politically tribal, me too, but I do keep that to myself at church. Has our nation ever been this divided?! I find myself working hard to hand over my upset to the Lord of the nations. I am having a real hard time with the decision to pull out of Syria when the Kurds have been such faithful allies. Better not go down that rabbit hole, “terror of knowing what the world is all about…..”

What does this mean? Elizabeth’s mother died this week. Lavonne was the kindest mother-in-law one could ask for, she secured my undying affection when she purchased an extraordinary trip to Nepal for Elizabeth and I to accompany she and Jim. In true Berentson fashion, the family has been faithfully keeping vigil as she died at home, full of faith and surrounded by the people who loved her best. I am honored to preside at her service next week. With Elizabeth so consumed with helping with her mother, I’ve been trying to keep our kids clothed, fed, clean, and free of lice. Now that she has her own car, Caroline is pretty much self-sufficient, besides me filling her gas tank. I did go shopping with her for a Homecoming dress, you will love this, to Good Will (her choice) where she bought a dress for $12. I even picked up a sport coat for $10 and a matching tie for $2. As Elizabeth says, “you have to love the GW!” Mark is more work. I try to be home, because he likes to give me a play-by-play of his day, “I said good-bye to Jackson, got a Rice Crispy treat at the Hawk Shop, and refuse to give Caroline a hug”. We have started taking Taekwondo at the Y and don’t tell him, but some horseback riding will begin soon. Who knew parenting was so exhausting?! My best friend, Dave, who is the brother I never had, is having quite the time, too. He is doing an admirable job of transitioning his parents to assisted living in Chicago from his home in Portland, so we check in on each other.

What is the takeaway? Alright, enough blabbering about all that, here is the takeaway. In fairness to Paul, after he says don’t worry about anything, he adds “but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving make your requests known to God”. With all that is going on, I’ve been surprised how grounded I feel. Most of it God’s grace and I get a hefty dose of that when I spend time telling God how lost, lacking, and vulnerable I am at the moment. Mercifully, God is faithful, sufficient, and steadfast. Why does that surprise me, I have no idea. Another God-given avenue for decompressing for me has always been and especially now, good friendships. Whether it is on the phone with Dave, eating chicken wings with old friends from Poulsbo, or texting my sisters it makes all the difference to know your people are on your side. NEVER WORRY ALONE! As surely as Jesus is present in bread and wine, Jesus is present in our friends and family in an almost sacramental way. Lastly, I do find joy in the routine of my life and work. Monday is sermon day so I am home alone working on that. Never grow tired of writing. Our whole family not only goes to bed by 9 PM, but we are diligent in getting to the YMCA, so that is a matter of survival. I do like to pray in the pool, waters of baptism you know, it gives me a physical release and restores my spiritual equilibrium. Yes, there is lots of stuff and stress, but I am surprised that I am doing okay, mostly because I stay to my routine, count on my people for support, and know Christ is there as my rest and refuge. Not sure what storms and stress you have, but don’t worry alone and trust great is God’s faithfulness. Amen.

 

 

 

 


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Sojourners in Need of Sanctuary

What is this? In the August issue of National Geographic, the Big Idea column was titled, “We are all migrants”. The author makes the case that as human beings, we are all of us, are on the move from youth to adulthood to elderly, from one location to another, one relationship to another, and one job to another, and so on. The columnist calls out the current political division between “natives” and “migrants”, encouraging us to realize that, ultimately, we are all migrants and refugees dealing with change, sorrow, and trying to find our way. Therefore, we need to have more empathy, understanding, and acceptance for the migrants that come to our borders, work in our cities, and live in our communities. While I certainly agree with his extended metaphor that we are all refugees on some level and, as a society, we need to be more hospitable to immigrants among us, I don’t find much hope for real change in his appeal for a better world if we somehow tap into our potential and try harder as humanity to be more tolerant and kind. Sorry, Lutheran pastor here, prone to skepticism and real about sin. The bible,  human history, and my personal experience confirm we simply do not have the capacity to “evolve”. The gospel is blunt, you, me, and the cosmos need a Savior.

What does this mean? I have always loved the biblical metaphor from Hebrews 11 that as people of faith we are travelers, sojourners, and aliens in this earthy life. I say that because I fancy myself a traveler, enthralled with exotic destinations like Lebanon and Singapore. I suppose I am a sojourner, in that I have lived an itinerant life, at least before marriage. I was constantly on the move, never quite settled, restless for new experiences. An alien, in that I have been shaped by a troubled family, bouts of depression, our son’s autism, and God’s mercy in the wake of such difficulties. Maybe we are all a mix of that, thrilled with the new and novel, restless and relentless in pursuit of inner peace, and wounded and worn down by our earthly losses and liabilities, and hopefully healing and growing through it all. Abraham is lifted up as our father in the faith, “even though he didn’t know where he was going, by faith, he made his final destination the promised land, so like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents….for he was looking forward to the city (New Jerusalem) with foundations whose architect and builder is God”. What fueled Abraham’s faith to live as a sojourner was hope from heaven, that is fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Yes, God came down, born into poverty to an unmarried couple, forced to flee to Egypt as a refugee to escape Herod’s reign of terror, working a blue-collar job, living under Roman occupation, before becoming an itinerant preacher, angering the religious establishment, rejected by the very people he came to save, then dying a condemned criminal on the cross, and finally raised from the dead through the miracle of the resurrection.

What is the takeaway? Jesus (Our Savior) has been where we have been; a refugee on the run, working for a living, having good friends, rejected by people he loved, moving from place to place, enjoying a good party, and, at times, feeling alone, full of sorrow, and wondering if God had abandoned him (on the cross). This matters because Jesus has also gone to where we will be one day, post-resurrection. Jesus is our great high priest, who mediates between the worldly sojourners and the Heavenly King. Paul says our citizenship is in heaven, so to help us get from here to there, we need Jesus to advocate for us. That means Jesus prays for us (see the Apostles Creed). We need Jesus to direct us, the Holy Spirit is our local guide, to get us home. And we need Jesus to be our sanctuary even as we are on the move. Jesus is a place of refuge, our constant companion, forgiving, energizing, and equipping us for holy work. As we move from birth to death, baptism to resurrection, from this life to the next, we need to rest, refresh, and reconnoiter with fellow sojourners, around the cross to worship and receive bread and wine to continue the journey. Back to the National Geographic column, there is something powerful and particular, that we are all migrants on the move. With Jesus as the First Refugee of the Coming Kingdom, may we lean on Him to guide and get us there. And along the way, may the Spirit give us the grit and grace to be merciful and generous to our fellow travelers, remembering they are a lot like us.


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Sun, Summer, and Sabbath

What is this? Earlier this month, our family vacationed on Guemes Island, accessible by a small, local ferry from Anacortes. Elizabeth’s family has had a simple A-frame cabin on the island since the 1970’s with no TV or telephone. It is simple, secluded, and sacred, the perfect destination for a Sabbath break. What a great place to read, sleep, and relax. Of course, the challenge for me was that our autistic son Mark was along. Nervous energy incarnate packed into a wiry fifteen-year-old frame and I was his handler. So we hiked up the island’s mountain a couple of times, stopped and shopped at the only store on the island, played basketball at the park, hit rocks on the beach with driftwood branches, drove around so he’d get some internet time on my phone, and ended up the day back at the store for ice cream. Sounds manic, but it was actually magic. Being outside, on the beach, at the park, away from TV, unplugged and unfocused, all with Mark who is good company, quirky and crazy (aren’t we all), with an emerging sense of humor. Elizabeth was with us, but the plan was to give her plenty of alone time in the holy family manse. Caroline was back home, working hard, trying to earn enough money to buy a car (See Driving Miss Caroline posts). We need times and places like Guemes Island to restore us to sanity. God has created us with the intrinsic need to rest, recreate, and be revitalized so God gives us the Sabbath. To encourage us to take our rest, God has to command us.

What does this mean? Sabbath comes from the Hebrew, literally meaning to “cease and desist”. Sabbath ceasing means more than to just cease working. The Fourth Command is, “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy”. In Genesis, God worked, blessed, spoke, created, named, & evaluated for six days, but on the seventh day, God rested. From the very beginning, there is rhythm and repetition to the Sabbath and it is hard-wired into our very physiology. Studies show that humans operate at optimum capacity with a day of rest after six days of labor. Over the long-haul, to accomplish more and stress less, we need that time to cease and desist. To be fully human, engaged and effective, we require rest and recreation. Marva Dawn writes, “One of our main causes of modern stress is that we have too much to do. Our false need to be productive builds stress, especially when cannot meet our own or others’ exorbitant expectations. We scramble after social status or are afraid to let someone down. We fail to appreciate others, especially family. We may be blind to all that God has given us because we’re caught up in accomplishing more”. On the Sabbath, we focus our time with God, setting aside our anxieties and impulses, trusting God will handle things while we take a break. What we fail to grasp is that when we let go, let God with the Sabbath we are exercising our faith and loving God.

What is the takeaway? Jesus offers us this standing invitation, “Come to me, all whose work is hard and load is heavy and I will give you rest”. This is just what we need. A new Gallup poll reveals that 55% of Americans feel stressed much of the day, 45% said they are worried quite a bit, and 22% said they were angry much of the time due to stress. in 2018, America was the seventh-most stressed out nation in the world. We do well to meditate on that. Let’s start with the obvious, our nation has unparalleled wealth, opportunity, and freedom. It makes you wonder why we’re so stressed with so many people in developing nations dealing with war, poverty, hunger, and safety concerns on a daily basis. A trip to Costco stresses us out; trying to navigate the shopping cart rush hour, being overwhelmed with too many product choices, fighting off the temptation to stop at the Food Court, and then hoping to escape the parking lot alive. When I start whining about this or that, my good friend Brent typically responds, “That is a first-world problem. If that is your biggest problem, you have no problems.” Then are those times when each of us faces real suffering; grief and loss, divorce, someone we love has cancer or mental illness, financial anxieties, or spiritual pain. That brings us back to the Sabbath. Whether your life is running smoothly, in crisis, or out of control, you need the peace and perspective that Sabbath brings. Not just to rest and recreate, but even more importantly, to hear God’s Word and be with God’s people. To remind you, thankfully, that you are not alone, and not everything depends on you, because everything depends on God. That should help you sleep well tonight!