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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!

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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!

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!

 

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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