stopping to smell the roses

Exodus 16:22-23   On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’

Israel is gathering Manna. On the sixth day they gathered twice as much, for the Manna was plentiful. When the people tell Moses, he has a word for them. “Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD”. This first use of the word “Sabbath”. The Hebrew word means to take a pause, to cease from exertion. Notice that the word is delivered after Israel has collected double. Where normally the Manna would spoil if kept over night, the extra, in this case, did not.

I just came off a period of more than six months working an overtime schedule. The last several weeks of which I was putting very long hours at work. When the job finished and I got back to normal schedule, I was very happy. But my situation didn't compare with the children of Abraham's promise. Israel has just come out of slavery, under some very harsh circumstances. They didn't get paid extra and they didn't get Sundays off. Moses is telling them, ‘Tomorrow is a day off. God has given it to you. And He is ordering you to relax and enjoy it.’

If you read down a little further you will notice that some couldn't sit still and relax. They went out to gather anyway, but they found no Manna, (Exodus 16:27). I can relate to these guys. I don't like working so hard that I am stressed out and lack sleep. But I also don't like sitting still too long. I undoubtedly would have received a rebuke as these empty-handed gatherers did, (Exodus 16:28-29).

Is this the first Sabbath? Not really. Turn back to Genesis chapter two:

Genesis 2:1-3   Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Before we move on, back up one verse to the last verse of Genesis chapter one: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31).


what the Sabbath is not

Genesis 1:31   And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

Sabbath begins when God stopped to enjoy all that He had created. Even though most of us are blessed with a relatively short work week compared to previous generations and we usually have a two day weekend in which to catch up on work around the house and so forth, we never seem to have enough time. Lack of time is in fact an illusion. What we have are some many comfortable ways to fill our time that the important stuff never seems to get done.

I have a book, published in 1985, entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death, (Postman, 1985). I would like read the Forward to the book:

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another slightly older, slightly less well-known, equally chilling: Aldus Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no big brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who would wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumble puppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

(Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Pages vii-viii).

In a recent report on NPR's all tech considered titled “Stuck In The Machine Zone: Your Sweet Tooth For ‘Candy Crush’ ” researchers have noted that not only is Candy Crush as addictive as gambling, but neither slots or Angry Birds depend on whether you win or not. Rather they present a dependable mental escape, what the researchers call the Machine Zone. It can apply to much more than slot machines and on-line games. Other candidates include compulsively checking e-mail, or Facebook, eBay auctions, media playlists and so on. T.S. Elliot says it well: “This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.”.

I am not warning of the end of the world here. I'll leave that to these authors. The point is that most of the activities which occupy our rest are counter-productive to Sabbath, resting in the Lord. This includes television, computer games, You Tube, sports and all those things we do on our phones. None of these is evil, but only in the rarest instance does your rest in the Lord advance through any of them.In many, if not most, of these entertainments our relationship with God can be seriously diminished. Clearly, none of these qualify as Sabbath.


Sabbath is God's law

Exodus 20:8-11   Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 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.

For in six days the LORD made heaven and 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.

Keeping the Sabbath is the forth of the Ten Commandments. It is that important to God. None of the Ten Commandments is for God. Sabbath, like all of the other commandments is for you (Mark 2:27). Your spiritual health is important to you, and you are important to God.

Sabbath is a pause to appreciate the things that God has done. God looked about at the end of His sixth day to take stock and appreciate the goodness. Sabbath begins when we appreciate the goodness of God. This allows us to approach the presence of God. In my Bible, Psalm 92 is listed as a psalm for the Sabbath.

Psalms 92:1-5   It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!

Notice that this psalm isn't about sitting for one day a week doing nothing. By the law, Jews celebrate on the seventh day Saturday. Most Christians celebrate on the first day of the week Sunday. But if you wake up at 3 am on Wednesday, you can give thanks to the Lord and sing praises. As far as I am concerned you have taken a moment for Sabbath with a good God.

Sabbath isn't just having a feel good moment praising God. Can I briefly interject the first mention of worship in the Bible is when Abraham is taking Isaac to the mountain top to sacrifice him. He tells his servants, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Genesis 22:5). There are a lot of ways to praise God, to appreciate God and to actively worship Him. Give Him your time. I recommend time set aside every day like you would with your spouse or your children. Fasting is a great way. You can fast food, entertainment, almost anything that we consider enjoyable give it up for a time to honor a good, good father.

Something profound is obtained by Sabbath. Look at what Isaiah has to say about Sabbath:

Isaiah 58:13-14 (NASB)   If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The formula is here, “ Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). David learned to Sabbath as shepherd boy. He spent lonely nights under the stars with no one but God and sheep to comfort him. He learned to sing praises to God in the night. Besides being known as a great warrior and might king, he is perhaps best known as the great psalmist. Many of those psalms were written when things were going badly for him. How did he get so many wonderful psalms? He spent his time with God:

Psalms 40:1-3   I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

God commands Sabbath because we need a relationship with God. He doesn't need us, we need Him. But make no mistake, God really wants to walk with you in the garden. He comes to us. We still have to come to Him.


Jacob's well

John 4:14; 23-24   whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

This is Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. When Israel was conquered by the Assyrians they took the Jews away and replaced them with people from other lands (2 Kings 17:23-24). When those people struggled, a Jewish priest was brought to teach them Judaism so that they could prosper there (2 Kings 17:25-28). The religion of Samaria was a mash-up of Judaism and other deities (2 Kings 17:30-34). You can see why the disciples are surprised that Jesus is talking to this woman. She is not a Jew and her religion is a rather odious version of Judaism.

But there is Jesus teaching her, “drink of the water that I will give… it will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. How do you drink? Glad you asked. Jesus answers, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”. Jesus is saying to her, you, a Samaritan, can do something the Jews never did too terribly well… Sabbath. Moreover, the Father will empower you with spirit and with truth.

The Reformers “Take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob” (Isaiah 58:14).


faith is trust in the Lord

Matthew 11:28   Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

“Being united to Christ by faith, accepting what He has done and who He is, the believer has eternal access to God. Faith, as [Jonathan] Edwards defined it, implies a resting in and a leaning upon Christ as Savior. It is an ongoing experience of relationship that lasts longer than one moment in time.”   (Taking Hold of God, 2011. Page 196.)

Faith is resting in Christ, who rests even in the midst of the storm, (Matthew 8:24-26). When he rises to rebuke the storm, Christ is at rest, at peace. In a moment when peace seemed the most inappropriate, Jesus was at total peace, because he knew his circumstance. Faith in the Christian context is not something we fix in our spirits. We don't will faith. That would be a form of mind control. Faith is fixed in our spirits by God when we come to into an encounter with Him. By that faith we begin to see clearly what God has done, what God is doing, and can have total confidence in what God is going to do!

All too many people come to the community of Christ through a dramatic encounter that is life changing, but never go back to the well that will cause that encounter to deepen and broaden. One example: with Facebook I am in casual contact with a large number of believers. I am continually astounded at how quickly fear of some new thing can travel through the Christian grapevine. But there is only one fear that is a fruit of the spirit, that is the Fear of the Lord. I don't suggest that Christians should become dull witted when it comes to the dangers of this world, but why would we create a storm where there is no storm? Why would we raise a spectre of fear on a calm and sunny day?

Part of it is because of a tradition of preaching style by which Christians have long tried to scare people into a relationship with Christ. Jesus preached, “Repent…” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Revelations 2:5 & 3:19), he sends his disciples preaching the same (Mark 6:12), but he doesn't stop there. To a people perishing in their sins and bound for eternal hell he brought Good News, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Revelations 2:26-28 & 3:19-21). And there was demonstration of the presence of the kingdom. There healings and deliverances (Mark 6:13). Who wouldn't want to be a Christian?

Where is the encredible joy of being a disciple of Jesus? I can only assume that Christians are relying too heavily on the comforts of this world, which as I have already outlined are the enemy of true comfort, a relationship with God, the Holy Spirit and Christ Jesus. That relationship can only be achieved through time spent in the place of encounter, in Sabbath.


the eternal Sabbath

Hebrews 4:1-16   Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.

For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

The Sabbath that Jesus envites us into is a rest that the world cannot fathom. It is a rest which cannot be accessed by the flesh. The road to that place isn't paved with yum-yum drops. It is paved with stopping to smell the roses. Taking time to remember all the things that God has done and is doing for you and those you care about. Let God enlarge your vision of gratitude. Secondly the road is paved with a willingness to lay aside all those things which pull us away from God. If you want a genuine encounter with the Lord… FAST. Don't just fast food, fast television, fast entertainment, fast whatever takes the edge off. And remember what the great psalmist says, ‘wait patiently’.

Listen! He wants you to Sabbath. He established it in His law so that you would realize just how important it is. God is calling you into a Sabbath that is beyond your imagining. God is calling you to the Sabbath established by Jesus Christ. The Sabbath of the Lord is fed by an eternal fountain. The more you drink of it, the more it will flow. The more it flows the greater the Kingdom of God appears all around you, in your home, in your neighborhood, in your community, in your country. It cannot be contained as long as the fountain flows.

When that fountain is flowing something even more remarkable happens. Your faith grows. It is no longer clinging to a promise memorized from the guide book, it is rooted in the bedrock of relationship. As long as the honor always flows upward, the rock will continue to pour forth sweet life-giving water. Mountains that stood in your way are swept away like a monster truck in a Texas flood. We cannot now imagine what God has planned for us.


*All Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version Bible unless otherwise indicated.

Wm.W.Wells — June 2016

Copyright © 2016 Wm.W.Wells. May be freely copied without alteration.