Year In Focus: Selah…

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I’m a shallow breather. Every now and then I end up taking a huge, full breath. It’s like I’m having to catch up. At 60, I’m used to the pattern. In fact it’s so natural for me that I often don’t realize that I’m doing it.

But those around me do, and they regularly ask me if something’s wrong because I sound like I’m sighing—at least that’s what I’ve been told. It’s gotten to the point that my husband asks, “Breathing or sighing?” He doesn’t want to assume and he wants to be sure I’m okay.

I don’t know how long I’ve done this. I asked a doctor once about it, but they sort of blew the whole thing off as a non-issue. So I don’t worry about it.

But I wonder. This forgetting to breathe sometimes feels like a metaphor for my life. I move at a pretty fast pace. I take on a lot. A little improvement has come with age and awareness (aka acceptance) of my limitations.

How does this apply to my theme this year of stillness and rest?

I’m glad you asked.

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I need to learn to pause. I can’t keep going at a speed that leaves no room for breathing.

Last week I was reading in Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible, and I noticed a word I tend to skip over. My New Living Translation uses the word “interlude.” Older translations have the word, Selah, set off to the side. Essentially, the word is an invitation to pause. To take some time consider the previous verses—to let the Truth sink in deeply.

I don’t know about you, but I like that…I need that. And not just when I’m reading scripture. I need to schedule in time to reflect the same way I am intentional about getting up and moving each hour (Thank you FitBit).

My recent reading about sabbath reinforced the truth that it is not simply empty inactivity, just as spiritual fasting isn’t merely not eating. Pausing to catch my breath isn’t Selah. Inherent within Selah is the spiritual practice of reflection, listening, and focus. It won’t happen unconsciously or outside of my intention.

So today, I will be looking for moments to stop, breathe, and reflect. I hope you find some, too.

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Sermon Seeds: Take Time to Rest

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Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).

The Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27).

Let us make every effort to enter that rest (Hebrews 4:11).

What do we do with God’s instruction to keep Sabbath? How do we do it in the 21st century? So much information is available about the topic of Sabbath…and a lot of opinion.

 

What if instead getting lost in the legalism of keeping—like the Pharisees did in Jesus time—we just decided to, as Lynne Baab suggests: “just establish sabbath patterns that nurture intimacy with God (p.12, Sabbath Keeping).”

Merely emptying our day of certain activities is like suggesting fasting is just the absence of eating. If we don’t fill up the time with God-honoring relational activities the absence is just absence…it’s meaningless.

And what about the people who have to work on what we would typically consider the Sabbath or Lord’s Day (and don’t get me started on the differences)? Are doctors, nurses, firefighters, and police—to name a few—doomed and damned because their schedules require them to work? Is it ok for pastors whose number one work day is the Lord’s Day to carve out time on a different day of the week?

Does Jesus look at us with our scattered and scurry-filled lives and offer the same invitation he gave to those who he saw chaffing under the unbearable load of rules and expectations?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).”

Baab tells of a woman, Ann, who had been keeping sabbath for over 30 years. She says: “The sabbath is one of those gospel duties that absolutely convinces us of the goodness of God. The more we practice it, the greater a privilege it becomes, the more essential it feels, the deeper it connects us to the river of life that provides fruit in all seasons…The sabbath-keeping command is like the promise, “O taste and see that the Lord is good (p. 17, Sabbath Keeping).”

One more thought from Baab: Only in stopping, really stopping, do we teach our hearts and souls that we are loved apart from what we do (p. 18, Sabbath Keeping).

As a child, back when we Sunday afternoons were heavy-laden with restrictions, I didn’t understand why…and I had no appreciation. None of it seemed like a gift. It was a lot like fasting: I just came away wanting more—but never more of God.

It’s quite revolutionary to think that this command to rest comes as part of God’s lavish love for us and his amazing grace.

Be still!

(On Mondays I plan to write posts that come from my reflections on my word/topic of focus for this year—which is stillness, rest, sabbath.)

Be still and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10a

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I have often described myself as an ESFP with ADD. My friends may tell you I’m somewhat outgoing, seemingly scattered, and  often unfocused. Perception is pretty close to reality.

I don’t like the description of the Proverbs 31 woman or Peter’s instruction: You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God (1 Peter 3:4, NLT).

Gentle and quiet are two words few people associate with me.

In fact, if for some reason I am quiet, people ask me what’s wrong. When I’m in public, I don’t do quiet well.

As I have aged, however, I have found I enjoy being alone…and quiet. I can turn off the TV, sometimes even goe sans music—and just be still.

But my stillness, my quiet reveree, lacked something. Until recently when I began asking God to reveal my direction for 2018.

Several years abo, I started writing a Bible study and one of the chapters was on the command to keep sabbath. I found myself being drawn back again and again to  the books I had gathered on the topic and stuck on a corner of a bookshelf in my office.

Holding one of the books, I felt a strong resonning in my spirit. A loud “YES!” Resonated within me from head to toe.

Okay, God. I got it, but I don’t get it.

And the whisper came back, “You will.”

Then one of the devotions in the first week of the year reflected on how Elijah didn’t hear God in the storm or earthquake—but in the quiet whisper. And the whisper was a question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Sitting in my quiet family room, holding the small book, I sensed my eyes filling with tears…and I heard God whisper, “Tina, what are you doing here?”

I didn’t have an answer. Still don’t. But you better believe I’ve been thinking about it. Even created the meme at the top of this blog.

The question is one of those kinds that when you say it you can put emphasis on a different word and change the meaning: What are you doing here? What are you doing here? What are you doing here? What are you doing here? What are you doing here?

After determining the direction, I felt compelled to be accountable. In the past I’ve lost interest and attention to my word/focus before I reached February. I might remember it later in the year—and have a few moments of guilt. I decided to not let that happen this year.

So every Monday I’m going to reflect on this with you, or at least with myself. I don’t know where it will go. Thankfully, I don’t have to…I’m just going to be obedient, and still, and listen for the whisper.

What are you doing here?

Resting

(This is a reposting of a Facebook Note from November 1, 2009)

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Where I work I spend most of my time in two rooms, the kitchen and dining room. They are open to each other. In those two rooms there are four clocks. Should I venture into either bathroom there’s a clock there, too. I never have to wonder or worry about what time it is.

Time. When we think about it we wonder what time it is. We wonder if we’re late or early. How much time do we have? What do we do with our time? We’re accused of wasting time, marking time, stretching time, and watching time fly by.

I used to rush through my days. I was proud of how much I could cram into a day. More was always better and therefore, resulted in a better me. When I gave up sleep to focus on saving the world (or at least my little corner), I made some of the stupidest and most dangerous decisions, decisions that nearly cost me everything, including my life. I finally came to the conclusion that there is a reason that God rested and a reason that he commands it of us, as well.

This morning was the time to change our clocks. It was time to “fall back.” While others were relishing an extra hour of sleep, I was awake and at my computer. I was reveling in the quiet. All I could hear was the rhythm of the clocks ticking around me. Now maybe if I only had that to listen to 24/7, it would become tortuous, but sitting here this morning, it was a Centering Symphony.

I was up “early” because someone imposed a time change on me. Isn’t that just how life seems to go? We grouse and complain because our time is not our own. Someone always seems to be demanding our time.

Recently, I was a t a retreat where the leaders took the watches and phones of the participants. The surrender was to free those attending from the tyranny of time. The thinking was/is to let the staff “worry” about time and schedule. Good as it was, the staff always had someplace for the participants to go or something for them to do, so there was no sense of “free time.”

Compare that to the experience of our house guest. We have a couple unoccupied rooms in our home, so we opened our space to a pastor friend who was between jobs with no place to stay. The first couple weeks she was with us, all she did was sleep, eat, and watch TV. Our interactions were minimal. Slowly, opportunities and necessities began to reenter her life and she began to go out with friends and go to some meetings. One day she came through the living room where I was reading. She sat and we chatted for a while. At the end of our talking, she shared how much she appreciated the opportunity to just be there with no expectations, just able to rest. It was the refreshing that she needed at every level of her being: heart, mind, soul, and strength.

In the great Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23), we find so much of the care provided to and for us. One of the things we may overlook is that he who knows us and our needs makes us lie down. Thinking of this reminded me of my grandson. I can always tell when Asher needs a nap. Some days so can he. Don’t make the Shepherd bop you on the head with his crook to get you to rest. We were not created to go 24/7.

One day as Jesus was ministering, he looked out at the crowd and was moved to compassion when he saw how weary and out of synch they were. He offered them rest, to restore their rhythm. To receive this gift they needed to come to him and learn from him. Don’t you think it’s time to listen, to learn, to rest?

Keeping the Sabbath Holy–Part One

I am working on a lesson/chapter for a Bible study I’m writing. The working title of the study is “Some Assembly Required.” The lessons examine the biblical passages that instruct us to “make every effort.” Each instance directs the believer to add something to his or her life.

The first lesson examined making every effort to add peace. And by comparison it was a piece of cake to this idea of adding rest.

I’m using Hebrews 4:11 as the central verse for the lesson, but it is best understood in context:

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.[a] 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’”[b]
And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.”[c] 5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, 7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”[d]
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,[e] just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11, NIV)

The problem I’m having is that I’m coming away with more questions than answers.

I found this quote today and it started me on a google trail that left me in tears:

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction. (Judith Shulevitz)

When I read this I thought of my husband. I can’t tell you how many times over the years he has sat in church and written lists. Lists about bills, to do lists, or work. It’s like he’s not able to shut it off. He isn’t at work, but he’s still working.

I get that…and I don’t want to.

I fret about not working. I feel guilty when I’m not busy.

Or at least I used to. I don’t as much any more…and I feel guilty about that. How bizarre? I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.

Am I just not wired to rest?

And if I can’t will I ever truly be able to honor God?

I don’t want to miss His rest.