Wednesday, August 10, 2011

600,000 Children About to Die

As I write this post, I'm working on two very different things.  I'm preparing to officiate a very special wedding on Saturday, and I'm putting together a sermon to preach this Sunday on the 6th Commandment: "Thou shall not murder" (Ex 20:13). My heart and my mind are preparing, at the same time, for the celebration of the divine mystery of marriage, which promises to bring so much joy and life into this world, and for a message that will challenge us as a church to consider the darkest parts of the human heart.  These two things just don't go together.  

What strikes me, and indeed what I cannot get away from tonight, is how I am seeing this tension on the world stage: on display in East Africa we are seeing marriage and it's purpose being thwarted by disregard for the 6th Commandment and it's purpose.  It is the intersection of these two things that has brought about the famine in East Africa.  Children are being killed violent men. 

If the articles I am reading are correct, the famine is bad, but it has been exacerbated by corrupt government and by militant groups such as Al-Shabaab who restrict the flow of aid.  As a result of this corruption, CNN is reporting that approximately 600,000 children are starving to death right now in East Africa.  Those kind of numbers simply do not compute.  But the picture posted to the right does.  I cannot imagine seeing my own son in this condition.  I cannot imagine what it must be like to hold this baby.  I do not know if this little guy made it or not.  He's the same age as my son: seven months.  

I saw this picture last week and have not been able to shake it.  Babies are starving to death by the hundreds of thousands.  Lord, have mercy.  

At the bottom of this post I am going to provide a list of relief organizations through whom you can give to help with this tragedy, and apart from exhorting you to pray and to give, I would end with this hope (my Christian friends will understand):  Long ago, when evil men broke the commandment "you shall not murder" and killed Jesus Christ, a Marriage was inaugurated whose purpose cannot be thwarted.  On that day, God made the great Tragedy into our salvation and the beginning of the end of all such evil.  A new creation began, and the curse is being reversed.  One Day it will be gone, when these "former things have passed away." (Rev 21:4)

List of Relief Organizations (just click and give): 
Compassion International 
World Vision
Feed the Children
Samaritan's Purse

Friday, August 05, 2011

Do You Need Rest? (Part 2)

In a previous post, I described what the Sabbath as we see it in the 10 Commandments.  (By the way, what follows won't make much sense if you don't read that post first.)  In this post, I hope to outline the reasons why I think the Lord's Day (a.k.a. Sunday) is the day on which Christians should obey the Fourth Commandment.  

Is the weekly Sabbath still for us?  

To answer this question we must look to see what Jesus and the apostles did and taught about the Sabbath.  If Jesus wants us to continue to keep the Sabbath, then as his followers, we should seek to do so.  What the apostles did, as those chosen by Jesus to continue his teaching, also matters to us.  

Many Christians today do not think we should keep a weekly Sabbath day, but if we look carefully, we will see that neither Jesus nor the apostles abrogated Sabbath obedience, rather, the Sabbath in the New Testament is upheld, transformed and kept. 

The Sabbath Upheld by Jesus and Paul:
  • Jesus:  In order to understand Jesus' teachings on the Sabbath, we must keep his historical context in mind.  In Jesus' day, the Sabbath was an abused teaching: many things were added to it by men that obscured God's purposes for the command.   In seeking to correct wrong views of this commandment, Jesus emphasized three things in his teaching about the Sabbath.  First, He asserted his authority as the Son of God to give commands concerning the Sabbath (Matt 12:8).  Using his authority, Jesus reminded the people of God's over-all purpose of the Sabbath ("the sabbath was made for man" Mk 2:27) and also recognized that some extreme situations  required one to "profane the Sabbath" and step outside of normal Sabbath-keeping (i.e. the importance of one's livelihood (Matt 12:11), religious duties for ordained ministers (Matt 12:5), and issues of life and death (Matt 12:3)).  It was because of Jesus' recognition of these extreme situations, and because he opposed the traditions built up around the Sabbath, that He came into conflict with the teachers of his day.  However, despite what Jesus' accusers said, He never broke the real Sabbath as God gave it, but only the rules men added to it over the years.  
  • Paul:  Paul's teaching context was slightly different than Jesus.  While Jesus primarily ministered among the Jews, Paul primarily ministered among the Gentiles.  For Paul, both abuse of the Sabbath AND neglect were problems in his churches.  For many of Paul's churches, abuse of the Sabbath came in the form of viewing obedience to the command as works righteousness.  The false teachers called the Judaizers were doing with the Sabbath what they did with all the commandments:  making them requirements by which to gain merit with God (Gal 4:8-11). Neglect of the Sabbath was rampant in the Gentile community, but this was largely because the weekly Sabbath was unknown to them.  To these communities, Paul taught Lord's Day observance of Christian worship (1 Cor 16:2; Acts 20:7).  
The Sabbath Transformed Because of Greater Works of Creation and Redemption

As we saw in the previous post, in the OT the Sabbath commandment changed slightly over time as God did more and more great works.  In a similar way, we see in the NT a transformation of the Sabbath in light of God's new works of creation and redemption.  

Up to this point in history, God had not created anything new nor had he done any greater work of redemption than the Exodus from Egypt.  But that all changed with the coming of Jesus Christ.  In the resurrection of Christ, God began a new work of creation.  This work, which continues today in those who are in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), began on the first day of the week, called the Lord's Day by the earliest Christians (Rev 1:10).  Not only did God do a greater work of creation on the Lord's Day, but He also accomplished a great work of redemption on the same day.  The resurrection of Christ from the dead accomplished a work of redemption greater than the redeeming of God's people from slavery in Egypt.  Jesus' death and resurrection accomplished redemption from the slavery of sin for all who have faith in Him.  

In light of these new works of God, Christians seemed to have shifted their day of worship from Saturday, a day set apart for remembrance of God's older works, to the first day of the week, the day on which God did these new works.  This kind of shift is not unusual in the New Testament.  God always keep the categories from previous covenants, only to transform them in the New Covenant.  For example, after the work of God in Christ, the Passover, the covenant meal, is transformed into the Lord's Supper.  Circumcision, the covenant sign, is transformed into Baptism.  And the Sabbath, the covenant community day of worship, is transformed into the Lord's Day.  (See Col 2:11-17)

And though the Sabbath day is transformed, what we do on the Sabbath does not change, at least not in a broad sense. Christians still remember God's works on this day:  

1. Remember: We celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday and revel is the fact of God's new creation in Christ as we marvel that God's redemption allows us to be a part of it.  

2. Rest:  We cease from all our works as much as we are able (I say "as much as we are able" because for centuries many Christians were slaves and could not rest on this day.  And today, some of us have jobs that relate to Jesus' extreme situations listed above).    

3. Worship: We gather with God's people each Sunday to worship, regardless of whether we're traveling, with company, or if other events are scheduled that day.  

4. Anticipate:  We set aside this day to anticipate Jesus' return, and we do so through every action of the day. 
  • In our rest anticipating the ultimate rest (Heb 4:1-13) of the New Heavens and New Earth.  
  • In our worship anticipating the great gathering of the saints in the heavenly temple. 
  • In our feasting with family that day anticipating the wedding feast of the Lamb. 
In the coming weeks, I hope to post a few examples of how the Lord's Day can be observed today on Christ Church's pastor's blog.  These last two posts just lay the ground work and give us the following conclusion, but much more could be said about how we actually live this.  I think in that area it is very helpful to hear from fellow Christians in our own day who have taken the 4th Commandment seriously.  I would encourage you to ask people at your church who fit this description, and even to pray with those in your home about how you can take full advantage of the Lord's Day.

So, in closing, I go back to my original question:  Do you wish you had time for what matters most in life?  Are you taking the time God has already given you on Sundays? Or are you filling it with fluff instead of drinking deep from what real life and real rest really is?  

Do You Need Rest? (Part 1)

Would you like a break?  
Don't you wish you had time for the more important things in life?  Don't you wish you had more time with God in prayer and in the Scriptures, more time with your family and friends?  We all want more time for real rest.  

For most of us, this kind of time is only found when we're on vacation.  But what if God has a better plan for us?  What if He has already cleared our calendars for the rest we really need?  The fact is that God has designed our weeks to give us rest, and He does so through the 4th Commandment: "Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy..."

Before we dive into what God's rest looks like from the 4th Commandment, let me tell you where we're going with this.  I had to divide this discussion up into two posts.  This post will take a look at what the Sabbath commandment is, and the next post will ask how we should live it out today as Christians.   

What is the Sabbath and what is it for?  
In the Sabbath commandment, God is teaching us what real rest is.  He is forcing us to keep our weekly labors in perspective by putting them on the shelf for a day, and He is calling us to turn to Him and his many blessings.  He's calling us to a feast, to celebration, to life.  The Sabbath is a day for us, each week, to revel in our God and his goodness.  This is real rest.   

If we were to look at the 4th Commandment as it is given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, we could see four basic activities that the people of God are to be engaged in on the Sabbath:  

1. REST from daily work: God says in the giving of the 10 Commandments in both Exodus and Deuteronomy that "Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.  On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates."  (Ex 20:9-10).  The prohibition seems to be related to regular, daily work.  (And this is implied in other places as well.)  Everyone is commanded to rest: the rich, the poor, the kids, the adults, even the animals.  We cease from our labors on this day, but we do not do so at the expense of others by making them work. 

2. REMEMBERING God's work of creation and redemption: The remembrance is the heart motivation for observing the commandment, and though the command to rest does not change, the motivation for the commandment evolves over time.  

The first time the Sabbath is commanded among the 10 commandments (Ex 20:11-12) God gives the following motivation for the command:  "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."  Here God is telling his people to observe the Sabbath day because of the pattern He set down in creation.  It was a day of rest with God's creative works in mind.  

The second time this commandment is given among the Ten (Deut 5:15), the circumstance and the rationale have changed.  Instead of being at Mt. Sinai just after being taken out of Egypt, God's people are on the plains of Moab about to enter into the Promised Land.  And now, the LORD commands them to keep not just his creative works in mind on the Sabbath, but also to remember God's works of redemption:  "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Therefore, the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." (Deut 5:15)  We are to remember on the Sabbath that God redeemed his people from slavery, and this is another reason to rest.  

We will discuss this later, but it is important to note that the reason for the commandment is always the work of God.  As God builds upon his great works by doing more work, the reason for the commandment becomes more multi-faceted.  

3. WORSHIPPING GOD with the covenant community: We are to  "keep [the Sabbath] holy" (Ex 20:8).  What is implied in this statement is what is said explicitly in Leviticus 23:3, that the Sabbath day is a "holy convocation" (that is an assembly) to the Lord.  An essential part of the Sabbath is that it is not spent alone, nor is it spent with non-believers: it is spent with God's covenant community.   And it is not just spent with members of the covenant community, but it is, in part, spent with members of the covenant community in worship proper directed to God.  

4. ANTICIPATING the fulfillment of God's promises:  The commandment for the Sabbath, indeed the whole of Exodus and all that follows, is set in the context of God's promise to Abraham.  Without God's promise to Abraham, there would be no people to receive the 10 Commandments.  God made a covenant with Abraham and promised him that through his seed all the nations would be blessed.  God promised Abraham an inheritance, both of children and of land.  (For God's covenant with Abraham, see Genesis 12, 15, 17).  Just as Abraham became God's man by believing and anticipating the fulfillment of God's promise, so God's people are a people because they believe God's promise and anticipate it's fulfillment (Rom 4:23-25; Gal 3:7-9; Heb 11).   On the Sabbath, we gather with our people, God's people through faith in the promise, and we anticipate the fulfillment of the promise in which we hope.  

So, in brief, that is what the Sabbath is about.  It's a day in which we stop our daily work in order to feast upon God by remembering his work, gathering for worship with other believers, and anticipating the fulfillment of our hope in his promises.

Do you love what you really need? 
It is only because we love other things more than God that we do not enjoy celebrating the Sabbath.  We love our leisure more than God, so we want to sleep or play rather than worship.  We love acceptance among family or friends more than God, so we treat it like any other day.  We even love our work more than God, so that we cannot even cease from it for a day, or even half a day.  It is tragic that something as good as the Sabbath is hard for us to live because of the idols in our hearts.  Unless God changes us, we choose stupid things (sleep, TV, sports, work) over the greatest things (God, intimacy with him, rest for our souls, time with family in deep things).  

But, perhaps you're thinking:  "This Sabbath stuff is Old Testament! This doesn't apply to Christians today?  And if it does, why don't we meet on Saturday instead of Sunday?" In the next post, we will deal with some of these questions.