A Break in the Action

Vacations are wonderful, aren’t they? You might be aware that Tara and I were away last week on a vacation of our own – that’s why there was no article posted here during that week. We had not been away from our everyday responsibilities (except for a few days during the Christmas season) since moving to Midland last August. We were ready to take a break!

When was the last time you took a step back from your responsibilities and allowed yourself to relax?

It doesn’t take a full-blown vacation to keep us healthy and sane. In fact, we live in such a luxurious culture that many of us actually can walk away from work, home, and responsibilities for several days at a time – and our little corners of the world keep on spinning. We truly are blessed to live in such a time that does not require every waking minute to be spent on productive tasks.

For centuries upon centuries, the Lord has been encouraging his people to take a break every now and then. Actually, his design was for us to take a break once a week. The concept of the Sabbath, or the seventh-day rest period, is extremely old; our biblical tradition says that even God himself rested after six days’ worth of creation. If God chooses to rest after a full work week, who are we to press on non-stop?

There is a danger here, though, for us to become like the Pharisees and require ourselves, our communities, and our entire culture to avoid any semblance of work on our Sabbath day (which, for Christians, is Sunday in honor of the day of Christ’s resurrection).

Jesus himself warns us about this tendency in Mark 2:27 – “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (NIV). This verse comes in the context of a challenge from the Pharisees that Jesus and his disciples were disobeying the Sabbath by picking heads of grain to munch on. Jesus reframes how we think about the Sabbath: instead of avoiding work one day a week because we want to please God by keeping the law, we should incorporate a regular period of rest into our lives for the sake of our health and well-being. If observing this period of rest means we pick some heads of grain instead of cooking a five-course meal, then so be it!

How do you observe the Sabbath? When was the last time you saw a break in the action? What would it take for you to step away from your responsibilities (but not from the Lord!) for a day or two? When will you do that next?

–Pastor David

Unelectric Church

What an experience we had last Sunday! For those of you who were not in attendance here, we experienced a major windstorm in central Michigan on Saturday evening, and around midnight the power was knocked out at the church and at various homes throughout the neighborhood. Electricity was not restored until later on Sunday afternoon, so our Sunday morning meeting was somewhat … different than normal.

We met in the Fellowship Hall for worship, because its windows let in more natural light than the sanctuary. We sang from the hymnal, and we did well without microphones. The congregation sang with tremendous vigor and energy – the strongest singing I’ve heard since Tara and I arrived last August! Several people commented afterward that the service felt like campmeeting and that this was one of the strongest services we’ve had in recent months. I tend to agree: our worship was inspired and greatly energetic, at least partially due to our “extreme” circumstances.

How accustomed we are to the convenience of electricity! And how wonderful to be reminded that our worship of the Lord depends on us, not on the setting in which we find ourselves.

Just a few weeks ago, we focused on the story from John 4 in which Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. In that passage, Jesus says that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23, NIV). I raised this question then: what does that kind of worship look like? In a fascinating manner, I believe the Lord gave us an opportunity to experience that kind of worship this past Sunday.

Does our worship depend on light bulbs in chandeliers, lyrics projected overhead by a computer, or amplification via microphones? Does our worship depend on radiated heat, flush toilets, or coffee machines?

What do we expect when we come into the house of the Lord? Do we expect to be comfortable, or do we expect to encounter the living God?

If nothing else, I think we can benefit from this lesson: The value of our corporate worship has more to do with the attitudes of our hearts rather than with the amenities of our facility. Perhaps we should shut off the electricity once a year to remind ourselves of this truth!

–Pastor David

Preview: The Power of God’s Word

This Sunday, we will hear from a special guest speaker, Sterling Gatling, who comes on behalf of Gideons International, an organization known for distributing the Bible all around the world. How powerful is the Word of God? Come worship with us as Sterling helps us focus on Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (NIV)

Exercise Much?

I’m not much of fan of exercising, although I know I should do it regularly. Each time I go in to my doctor for a physical, he asks what kind of exercise I’m doing. I’m just as good as the next guy in coming up with excuses why I don’t have time or energy or interest to work out. But now that our long Michigan winter is over (thank the Lord!), I’m beginning to realize how important it is, at least for my outlook on life. Being relatively idle for six months while snow covers the ground really does make an impact, not only physically but mentally as well!

Exercising is just as important for the spiritual life as it is for the physical body. Physical exercise can be a time for prayer and meditation, of course, but spiritual exercises are also quite valuable in their own right. These exercises are usually called “spiritual disciplines” in Christian circles, because a certain amount of discipline is required if we choose to participate in these activities consistently.

Many, many books have been written on the spiritual disciplines. The disciplines generally fall into two categories: engaging (prayer, worship, Bible study, fellowship, etc.) and abstaining (fasting, celibacy, solitude, simplicity, etc.). One well-known Christian author, Richard Foster, categorizes the spiritual disciplines differently: inward, outward, and corporate. His best-selling book entitled Celebration of Discipline is the gold standard among Christians for understanding the spiritual disciplines. I have a copy of this book in my study; let me know if you’d like to borrow it sometime!

Why is spiritual exercise so important? Well, if a person spends his or her entire life being spiritually sedentary, then how do you imagine an annual check-up would go? We often think of Christ as our Great Physician, the one who can heal any illness and cure any disease. What if we were to think of Christ as the Great Physician to whom we go for an annual (or more frequent) “spiritual”? What might he suggest about our spiritual health? Would he be pleased with our progress? Would he challenge us to do more exercising? Would we look for reasons why exercising just doesn’t fit into our daily routine?

Your reading assignment for the week is Colossians 3. Read the whole chapter in one sitting, and consider what steps you are taking – or what steps you need to take – to bring about the Christ-like lifestyle and spiritual growth described in this chapter. Then get to exercising!

–Pastor David

Citizenship in the Kingdom of God

By now you are well aware of the news: Osama bin Laden has been killed. How should we respond as Christians? Much has been said in the past few days; here are a few more thoughts.

I am a citizen of the kingdom of God. This is due to the work of salvation that Jesus Christ began on the cross and has been completing in me since I accepted him into my heart when I was a child. One way our scriptures speak of this is being “born again” or “born from above.” This new birth marked my entrance into the kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaimed was breaking into the world but was not of this world. This kingdom is already present but not yet consummated. This kingdom is populated with human beings whose earthly mortality will not end their participation in the kingdom.

I am also a citizen of the United States of America. This is due to the fact that my parents lived in this country at the time that I was born. I am certainly grateful for all the blessings that accompany that citizenship – and I am sure that there are many of which I am not even aware. However, my citizenship in this country is only good for as long as my mortal body is alive. At death, this citizenship expires.

Why is this distinction important? I believe that I must maintain this distinction so that I can learn to react appropriately to events that take place in the world around me. When crime occurs in my neighborhood, I struggle with the presence of evil, but I attempt to forgive those who do me harm and pray for those who persecute me. When joblessness and poverty fuel each other in a vicious cycle, I encourage and share resources with (or ask for help from) people around me. When troubles, wars, famines, and plagues of all kinds strike my homeland, I trust in the Lord, who said these things must happen, and I offer a helping hand whenever possible.

How does a citizen of the kingdom of God react to the news of Osama bin Laden’s death? How should an American Christian respond? To be honest, I don’t know.

It is undoubtedly a good thing for the United States that bin Laden has been killed. His death signals a major victory against terrorist organizations, and it allows us to breathe a small sigh of relief after holding our collective breath for the past ten years. However, since my citizenship is primarily in the kingdom of God rather than in an earthly kingdom, my reactions to this event must reflect that identity.

One more person has died without having a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

This person’s death has elicited responses of satisfied revenge among many American citizens. King David praised God for how Abigail persuaded him not to seek revenge against her husband Nabal and the men of his town (1 Samuel 25:32-34).

This person’s death may usher in an era of peace for our nation; on the other hand, the future may hold more uncertainty and hardship. Jesus Christ’s command still stands: we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us – that is, those who persecute the church, not those who persecute the United States (Matthew 5:43-48).

Furthermore, we should agree with Paul, who says that “whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:1-12). However, this statement comes in the context of disagreements within the church. How we choose to relate to other believers is, I believe, of far greater importance than how we choose to react to the death of an international terrorist. Our unity is of extreme importance, because it points to the reality of Jesus Christ coming from God the Father on a mission of sacrificial love (John 17:22-23).

Osama bin Laden is dead; this may indeed be a very good thing for our nation. Yet the mission of the church is the same as it was a week ago – and ten years ago – and it will remain the same ten years from now. Our safety and national interests cannot take precedence over the interests of the kingdom of God.

–Pastor David