Archive | August, 2013

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Setting Boundaries between Rest and Employment

30 Aug

Life is a balancing act and, if you’re at all like me, you’ve probably struggled at times to maintain that balance: especially when it comes to rest and work.  We live in a high-paced society filled with schedules, deadlines, and difficult-to-meet expectations from bosses, professors, family members, and friends. Our lives are dominated by activities ranging from mundane chores like doing our laundry and cooking dinner to tasks which (seemingly) have the ability to make or break our future job prospects.  And the Church has its demands as well!

With all of this going on around us, it isn’t surprising finding a spare moment to sit down and relax can sometimes seem like an impossible dream!  Indeed, setting and maintaining boundaries between the tasks we must accomplish and the relaxation our bodies and minds so ardently desire can be quite a challenge.  That’s why, over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at some simple ways to set boundaries between work and play.  We’ll explore three types of work/rest boundaries that confront each of us, along with some tips for overcoming the impossible and actually getting the rest that we need.  We’ll be exploring the delicate balance that exists between rest and employment, what to do when the line between work and rest gets blurred, and how to handle the tangible tension which often exists between rest and ministry.

We’ll get started this week with the trickiest of these three: the balance between rest and employment.  Unless you happen to be independently wealthy, you have to have a job.  It is through your employment that you are able to pay your electric bill, cover the cost of your groceries, and ensure that you aren’t running around in just a loin cloth.  If you’re amongst the richest 25% of world population (those who make over $3,706 a year), you probably also have the ability to occasionally see a movie or buy a candy bar.  But even those who are among the “richest” aren’t always rolling in the dough and a loss of hours can lead to serious financial hardship.

That this can lead to conflict when it comes to scheduling time for rest is undoubted.  For example, what do we do when we really have to work that extra day this week or risk losing our employment?  What should we do when the boss says we can have the extra hours we need to pay off our student loan, but we haven’t had a day off in over a month?  And how do we handle it when those who control our time on the clock feel they have the right to control our time off the clock?

While some might be tempted to argue that those facing these circumstances ought to “take a stand”, say no, and trust God, those who have lived through similar situations know that doing so isn’t always wise… or even possible.  We recognize that God’s provision for our needs doesn’t always come in a way that is comfortable or appealing and that sometimes we’re called to do something which doesn’t permit us a great deal of freedom or control.  We aren’t necessarily allowing ourselves to be used as doormats (though it may appear that way to others), but we are submitting ourselves to authority in order to achieve the end that God has put before us – in this case, earning a living.

The result is that some of us have to learn the delicate art of “resting one moment at a time”.  Unlike the full day off we discussed in our series on the Sabbath, this art demands that we learn to look for the little breaks in our day that allow us even just a few minutes to “escape” from the world surrounding us and into fellowship with God.  It requires that we learn to make the best of the time we have, investing it in the activities and relationships that really matter.  And it can make the difference between our being Spirit-filled representations of God’s love for humanity or just another cranky Christian.  It isn’t always an easy skill to pick up, so next week, we’ll be taking a look at a few tips to help you on your way!

The Senator Said…

28 Aug

Read: 1 John 4:1-6

“Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

Matthew 7:15 NIV

 

One of my tasks with our state’s junior Senator was to serve as a liaison between his constituents and Federal agencies.  After listening carefully to a constituent’s story, I would have them fill out a formal request for our assistance and provide me with copies of any documents pertinent to their case.  I would then send a letter to the agency involved, asking if they had given full consideration to the individual in question.  I was well acquainted with Federal policy and did my job well.  Most of my cases dealt with tax and immigration issues and were easily resolved (usually in the constituent’s favor). 

Some of our constituents, however, were not satisfied to know that I was working on their case.  Instead, they wanted the Senator, himself, to deal with the situation – hoping that he might be able to “pull some strings” and get them off the hook.  It was not uncommon for such an enquirer to alert me to their close family connections (usually with the Senator’s deceased mother or brother).  This failing, I was sometimes informed that they had already spoken to the Senator personally and that he had given them instructions to instruct me to write a letter on their behalf ordering the Federal agency involved to cease persecuting them immediately.

Such letters were not in keeping with Senate policy, but we still took the time to run the names of each “best friend” past the Senator.  On the rare occasion that a constituent had told the truth about their connection, it gave him the opportunity to express sympathy and reassure them that his staff would do everything possible to assist in the resolution of their case.  More often than not, however, the names of these intimate acquaintances failed to even ring a bell.

Regardless of whether the Senator knew each constituent or not, my orders remained the same – and I was smart enough to know that obedience to the law of the land was a better bet than adherence to the directions of someone who simply claimed to be acting on the Senator’s behalf.

Scripture warns us of similar people in our spiritual lives.  Ignoring the clear instructions of God’s Word, these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” do whatever is necessary to further their own interests… even if doing so will harm others.  Followers of Christ must always be on the lookout for such false messengers, alert and ready to defend against their lies!

Challenge:  The best way to defend against falsehood is to know the truth… and there is no better source of truth than God’s Word.  If you don’t already have a Bible reading plan in place, take time to create one.  Just a few minutes a day can make the difference between walking with God or being led astray!

Underground Reality: Vietnam

26 Aug

Even the most skilled penman has to agree that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Images have the capacity to convey the deepest joy and greatest tragedy.  They move us emotionally, encourage us to think deeply, and oft times spur us to action.  That’s why, this week, we’re featuring VOM’s “Underground Reality: Vietnam”, a video documentary that takes believers inside the church in Vietnam, a country where the practice of the Christian faith can lead to imprisonment, torture, or even death.

Viewers are invited to join in the journey of four “western” High-schoolers as they come face-to-face with what it truly means to be a follower of Christ in a hostile country.  Travel with them as they visit a secret Bible school, a covert summer camp, and an underground church.  Listen as they interview believers who have lost everything for the sake of their faith.  And experience fear first hand as the teens encounter difficulties with government officials intent upon stopping the spread of Christianity.

Join in worship with our brothers and sisters across the ocean as you hear the stories of pastors, students, lay-people, and even other teenagers who have given their all for the One who gave His all for them!  Then, feel the fire as these amazing teens encourage you to give your all as well.

Take a moment to view the trailer for “Underground Reality: Vietnam” on YouTube, then purchase your own copy at: https://secure.persecution.com/p-398-underground-reality-vietnam-dvd.aspx.  You can be assured that it’s a journey you won’t soon forget!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Rest and Relationship

23 Aug

Last week, in “What the Sabbath Rest Is”, we discussed the value of the Sabbath as a celebration of deliverance: both Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and our deliverance from sin.  But that’s not where Sabbath observance ends.  God didn’t rescue either the Hebrews or us from something just to leave us wandering in a desert.  Freedom isn’t just about delivering people from slavery: it’s about delivering them to something else.  And in this case, that “something else” is a relationship.

In Titus 3:4-7 we read that, “when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  Romans 8:14-17 declares that, “all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” This word, “heir” is used throughout the New Testament (Galatians 3:26-29, 4:1-7, Hebrews 6:17 and 11:9, to name a few) and indicates a relationship far more intimate than that of mere acquaintances… it is a relationship of sons and daughters.

It is this relationship which we celebrate as we observe the Sabbath.  Not merely a day of rest, but one of focused rest, this single day each week is to be centered upon our Heavenly Father and dedicated to those things which will draw us closer to Him.  But what exactly are those things?  Here are a few ideas.

  1. Read the Bible.  Can you imagine getting a letter from a friend and just ignoring it?  Probably not.  To do so, would show your disinterest in the relationship… yet all too often, that’s what we do to God.  If you’re looking for a good way to celebrate your relationship with Him, start with His letter to you: the Bible.
  2. Prayer.  Jesus teaches His disciples to pray beginning with the phrase “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2) Unlike the prayers of the heathens (Matthew 6:7), this one isn’t the mere repetition of words.  It’s a conversation between intimate friends and, as with any dialogue, it has the power to deepen and expand our relationship with the One addressed.  Perhaps you can even take the opportunity to share your thoughts about what you just read!
  3. Enjoy each other’s company.  This may seem obvious, but one of the best parts about a friendship is the ability to simply “be” together.  Instead of making your time with God all about study, why not simply sit and listen?  You may be surprised at some of the things He has to say to you!
  4. Fellowship.  One of the best ways to celebrate relationship is in the company of others.  While attending a Church service, Bible study, or Sunday school isn’t compulsory for believers, doing so can play an important role in deepening our relationship with God… and the rest of His family.

These are just a handful of “celebratory” ideas to get you started.  There are plenty of ways to cultivate any relationship – including our relationship with God.  The more time you spend “resting” in His presence, the deeper that relationship will become.  A side benefit?  The closer that connection grows, the easier it will be to act in obedience to God’s command to share His love with others!

Next week, we’ll be looking at a less relationally-centered form of rest as we explore the importance of setting boundaries between our time at work and our time off.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts on the Sabbath in the comment box below!

Potato Tote Bags

21 Aug

Read: Luke 12:22-34

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7:9-11 NIV

 

I’m not sure where the Senator’s Director of Agriculture found the advertisement.  What I do know was that he was excited.  After all, what says “Idaho” like a potato tote bag?  And what says “the Senator cares” quite like a free potato tote bag to be handed out to each conference participant?  There could be no doubt that it was the perfect gift.

After a morning of phone calls (most made for the purpose of finding out what the potato tote bags looked like – a question which even the seller seemed incapable of answering), the Director finally gave in and placed and order.  Assured that fifty tote bags were on their way, he went happily about his business and gave no more thought to the matter.

A few days later, the box arrived and, despite our Ag Director’s absence, I caved to the temptation and peeked inside.  Slicing through the tape, I pulled away the cardboard to reveal a stack of fifty… burlap sacks.  I frowned as I pulled one out of the box, unfolding it across my desk.  It was imprinted with a commemorative seal, but otherwise it was really quite an ordinary burlap bag.  A bag for toting potatoes?  Yes.  A potato tote bag?  No.

I giggled as I glanced towards our Ag Director’s office.  Traipsing across the room, I set the box neatly on his chair and draped one of the sacks over the top.  To this I attached a note which read, “Your Tote Bags Came!”  Then, I waited.

A few hours later, he returned to the office and, upon seeing the burlap bag, let out a laugh.  It was the kind of laugh that indicated that he thought I was pulling his leg.  After all, who asks for “potato tote bags” and gets burlap sacks instead?  Smiling to himself, he popped open the box, paused for a moment, did a double take, then let out a cry of dismay.  “Oh no! These aren’t tote bags!”

Fortunately, when we ask God for something, we can be guaranteed of better results.  Scripture assures us that our Heavenly Father both knows what we need and provides it.  What a blessing to know that we will never lack any good thing!

Challenge:  Just because God has promised to meet all of our needs doesn’t mean that He always meets them the way we expect or prefer.  Sometimes, instead of a full-ride scholarship, we end up in a work-study program or instead of a decent paying job, we find ourselves working a couple minimum wage gigs.  Whether God meets our needs His way or ours, we can rest assured that He will be faithful to take care of us.  Take a moment to write out a list of your needs and the ways in which God provides for each of them.  Then thank God for that provision!

Got Questions

19 Aug

Got questions?  Most of us do.  And while the answers to some questions aren’t all that important (like whether the fuzzy thing in the fridge is a kiwi or a moldy plum), others can make the difference between life and death, Heaven and Hell.  That’s why GotQuestions.org exists!  A non-denominational volunteer ministry, GotQuestions.org seeks to answer the questions of both Christian believers and spiritual seekers in a way that accurately and fully represents the Biblical view.

Starting with “Crucial Questions”, the site carefully lays out Christian doctrine as it has been passed down through the centuries answering questions like “Does God Exist?”, “Is There Life After Death?”, and “Is Jesus the Only Way to Heaven?”.  Through a series of concise, easy-to-read answers, GotQuestions.org explains the core beliefs which bind us together as followers of Christ.

But just as there are similarities, there are also differences.  While Christians all subscribe to the same views of God, man, sin, and salvation, we don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything else.  Embracing the belief, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity”, the site labors to answer questions like, “Should a Christian Woman Wear a Bikini?”, “Should a Christian Play Video Games?”, and “Is it Wrong to Want to Be Famous?”.  You’ll find answers to questions on topics ranging from relationships to the End Times, so take some time to sit down and explore!

Want to take the site with you when you head to school, work, or the gym?  Why not download the GotQuestions app for iOS or Android?  You’ll have all of the features of the website right at your fingertips – providing the right answers at the right time!  Don’t like reading?  Why not check out the GotQuestions podcast. You’ll hear the same great Biblical advice seen on the website in an easy-to-use collection of 2-5 minute episodes!

However you choose to get your answers (and regardless of your status as a Christian or a seeker), you’re sure to find GotQuestions.org to be an excellent resource!  So check it out today!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: What the Sabbath Rest Is

16 Aug

Last week, in “What the Sabbath Rest Isn’t”, we discussed the pattern of rest God established for His followers as well as how that pattern became corrupted.  But recognizing what the Sabbath isn’t doesn’t always help us when it comes to recognizing what the Sabbath is… or even whether it’s something that (medical evidence aside) ought to be observed by believers today. Was the Sabbath merely meant to be the Jewish equivalent of a “day off”?  Or was it intended to be something more?  And if it was, are there consequences involved with ignoring it?

For the answer to these questions, we must turn first to the Ten Commandments.  (Exodus 20)  Delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai, these ten basic rules outlined the behavior which God expected from His people.  More than just a set of guidelines for righteous living (or, as Paul would later point out in Romans 3:20, a spotlight to help identify sinful behavior), these commands set the parameters for our relationship with God.  They helped the Israelites identify those behaviors which would either deepen or destroy the intimacy they enjoyed with their Creator.

If you’ve taken the time to thoroughly read the New Testament, you’ve probably noticed that each of these commandments is repeated… but with a single exception: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of Jehovah thy God.”  (Exodus 20:9-10a)  Why isn’t there a Sabbath command to be found in all of the teachings of Christ or His Apostles? 

While most of us are familiar with the initial giving of the commandments in Exodus, far fewer Christians are acquainted with the reiteration of these commands to be found in Deuteronomy.  It is here, in chapter 5, verses 12-15 that God explains to Israel that there is far more to this day of rest than simply relaxation.  Indeed, those who follow Him are commanded to, “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”  The reason for the Sabbath?  To remember Israel’s deliverance from slavery. 

Since not every member of the expanding Church was Jewish, it’s not surprising to find the Apostle Paul advocating the type of freedom which allowed believers the choice between observing the Sabbath or abstaining.  (Romans 14:4-6)  But even then, the issue wasn’t cut-and-dried.  Many believers both then and now continue to see a parallel between Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and our own deliverance from sin.  And if the Hebrew people were to celebrate the one on a weekly basis, how much more should we as Christians take time to celebrate the latter!

Next week, we’ll dig a bit deeper as we examine the relational nature of a Sabbath rest, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

 

The Chair

14 Aug

Read: Romans 5:1-5

“He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the s of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.”

Malachi 3:3 NASB

 

The “chair” was well over 100 years old and was known to be the most uncomfortable seat in the House.  Five minutes perched atop it and half of one’s body would begin to fall asleep.  Unfortunately, at six feet tall, a ladder was required to mount it and, upon taking up the position, those assigned to it were forbidden to leave.  Yet there it sat: at the front of the chambers, a beacon to any page who wished to simply sit and listen to the day’s business.  From here, I could watch every debate up close.  I could see every prank pulled and hear every word spoken.  It was, in my opinion, paradise.

Unfortunately, this paradise did not always belong to me.  As pages, we were assigned to work on rotations – giving us a better feel for the different aspects of State government.  Each day, we found ourselves with new tasks to perform and new venues to explore.  The only time an exception could be made was if we could find another page who was willing to trade duties with us.  While with most tasks, this wasn’t easy, when it came to the chair, it was another story.  Instead of viewing the assignment as an opportunity, most of the pages saw it as unwarranted torture.  When I offered to trade my assignment for theirs, I almost always got a “yes” and it wasn’t long before the chair was mine: good, bad, and indifferent.

What I saw from my awkward perch was invaluable.  Watching each debate, I learned about the nature of politics, government, morality, and human nature.  I came to understand what works in government… and much about what doesn’t.  I will never lose the lessons I learned in the hours spent up there and have never regretted the discomfort I experienced.

Unfortunately, I don’t always carry this attitude into my spiritual life.  Scripture speaks of God as a purifier, seeking to refine His people and the process of remaking us in His image is sometimes as uncomfortable as that chair in the front of the House chambers.  When we avoid this purification, we miss precious opportunities to grow.  When we patiently endure this discomfort, however, we reap rewards beyond our imagining.  The choice is ours… if only we will make the right one!

Challenge:  The next time you face an uncomfortably situation, try seeing it through God’s eyes.  Look for the lessons to be learned and the ways that this difficult situation will make you more like the One who saved you.  Commit to enduring the trial without grumbling and you may be surprised by the results!

Cross Examined

12 Aug

Facts and statistics play an important role in sharing our faith but they don’t do much good if they can’t be quickly and accurately applied to real-life situations.  Learning to do that can take some practice and that’s why, this week, we’re featuring Cross Examined, the apologetics ministry of Dr. Frank Turek.

Co-author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist and a former Naval aviator, Dr. Turek brings both his ability to think rationally and act quickly to table each week through his radio program and podcast.  Addressing the pressing issues faced by today’s believers, he teaches listeners to respond both thoughtfully and respectfully to the problems predominant within our society.  A good balance of logic and Scripture, each program is sure to leave you better prepared to defend what you believe.

Looking for a bit more?  Why not check out Frank’s blog where he addresses common objections to Christianity in detail?  View articles on church beliefs, morality and politics, or intelligent design and evolution.  Each thought-provoking essay is sure to leave you feeling both more competent and more confident in your ability to make a strong case for your Christian beliefs!

Whether you’re an experienced apologist or new to the faith, you’re sure to find something that will help you as you share your faith with others!  So check out Cross Examined today.  You’ll be glad you did!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: What the Sabbath Rest Isn’t

9 Aug

Last week, in “Rest and the Biblical Case for Taking a Day Off”, we took a look at the practical value of rest and the ways in which a regular pattern of rest can influence us both physically and mentally.  We explored the pattern of rest which God established in Genesis and considered Jesus’ declaration that, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  (Mark 2:27)  So what exactly is the Sabbath?

According to Exodus 20:9-10, the Sabbath was to be a special day set apart from all others – a day in which those who followed the God of Israel were to do no work.  Starting with this understanding, we can begin to construct an idea of what it means to rest… or at least what it doesn’t mean.

So what qualifies as work?  According to rabbinic tradition, to work was to engage in creative action.  It was labor with the intention of bringing about something new, in similitude with God’s act in creating the heavens and the earth.  While it’s obvious that men can’t create something out of nothing as God did, we’ve certainly proven ourselves capable of transforming one thing into another – and it’s this type of labor which is forbidden on the Sabbath.  If the rabbis are correct (and many Christians argue that they are), those who wish to observe the Sabbath must cease from any task which results in the production of something else.

But even this definition leaves us with some gray areas.  For example, most of us would agree that building a house, baking bread, writing a poem, and painting a picture are creative (or at least transformative) activities.  But what about an activity like walking which results in the “creation” of muscle mass or eating which results in increased energy?  Are these creative acts and, if so, who is responsible for the creation?  Is it God who originated the process by which the thing is created or the men who provide the material with which to create?

In an attempt to answer this question, the rabbis established a number of rules concerning everything from how to prepare Sabbath meals (an activity performed a day in advance) to how many steps one could take between sunset and sunrise.  It wasn’t long before these rules dominated everyone seeking to observe the Sabbath, turning the day of rest into a burden rather than release.  The rules which had been created to aide in the enjoyment of the day had resulted in the same type of legalism which Jesus condemned in Matthew 23:1-4.

The Apostle Paul (unlike the rabbis) was quick to note that it wasn’t the actual activities which occurred on the Sabbath which made it a day of rest, but rather the attitude with which those activities were performed.  Addressing the Church in Rome (a congregation made up of both Jews and Gentiles), he asked, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord…”  (Romans 14:4-6)

So where does this leave us as we seek to observe a day of rest?  Quite honestly, with a great deal of freedom.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look of the practical issues surrounding the Sabbath as well as some ways in which regular observance of this day of rest can better prepare us to share the Gospel with others.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

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