Keeping The Sabbath Holy & Wholly

Instead of giving something up for Lent this year, why not embrace the gift of Sabbath?

by Christine Lee and Joanna Thomas

Frank Sinatra famously called New York the “city that never sleeps”.  There’s great blessing in this– we have the privilege of living in one of the most vibrant, diverse, dynamic cities in the world.  But there’s also a dark side too: we are often driven to exhaustion, overwhelmed by seemingly endless demands, fearful of falling behind or missing out. This year, for Lent, we need Sabbath.

What is the Sabbath?

The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word shavat which means to “cease, stop, pause, rest.” But the Sabbath is not simply a day off to run errands or veg out. It is not another name for Sunday. As it has been practiced historically, the Sabbath is a 24-hour period in the week where we stop our work, we rest, we delight and we contemplate the love of God.

Why Sabbath this Lent?

The Sabbath reminds us of who God is.   The Sabbath points back to the perfect shalom of God’s original work of creation and the reality that God himself rested from his work. Marva Dawn in her book Keeping The Sabbath Wholly writes, “God rests at creation not because he is tired but because rest is a sign of completion and abundance. The universe is so well-ordered, his creation is so good, God’s gifts to humanity are so generous that God is able to rest.” As we Sabbath, we remember that God, and not us, makes and sustains the world.  God continues each day to give gifts that delight, fulfill, refresh and restore His creation. And God Himself rests.

frog-at-rest

The Sabbath reminds us of whose we are. In the Sabbath, we exercise the freedom God has given us to worship, to trust and to rest in Him.  Rest is something that free people can do— slaves cannot rest. As we commit to Sabbath, we test the drivenness that fuels our activity. Who are really trusting in? Are we truly free, or are we in bondage to another agenda?  As Dorothy Bass puts it, “To keep the Sabbath is to exercise freedom and recall the One from whom that freedom came, the One from whom it still comes.”

Sabbath reminds us of where we are going.  Sabbath points forward to the time when God’s work of re-creation — the new heavens and the new earth — will be complete in Christ. No matter what our current struggles or difficult circumstances, we know how the story ends.  God wins! Jesus reigns! All wrongs will be made right, all tears wiped away. Perfect shalom will be restored. As we practice Sabbath, we enact our hope and trust in God’s ultimate victory.

Scripture draws a straight line between justice and Sabbath. Israel’s Sabbath was for masters and servants, foreigners and even the animals that work. No political or economic category mattered — God’s rest was available to all.  As we rest on the Sabbath, we seek to reclaim that image of God’s shalom for all, and look for ways to rest so that others may rest.

In these times of unrest in our world, God is calling his people to walk to the beat of a different drum. Practicing Sabbath allows us to become a people who draw from the deep, still waters of rest and trust in the Creator God, the Redeemer God.

Scriptures to Consider

  • Genesis 1:1-2:3
  • Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15
  • Isaiah 56:1-8
  • Isaiah 58:1-14
  • Matthew 12:1-8
  • Hebrews 4:1-11

Books to Read

*****

Carolyn Carney and Joanna Thomas have put together this helpful guide on suggested Sabbath practices to get you started. 

In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzero helps us think about keeping Sabbath by stopping, resting, delighting and contemplating. Below you’ll find some suggested practices for each of these four categories, followed by some special considerations for singles and for families. Be creative and consider your own situation, personality, and your needs for this season of life. However, do consider engaging each category.

For All:

Stopping

  • Stop worrying and instead cast your cares to the Lord. List or write on separate slips of paper the items or people or situations that weigh heavily on you.  One by one, with intention, turn over each of these to Jesus.
  • Do not send or read emails related to work. Refrain from school work or studying.
  • Go screen-less for 24 hours.
  • Be free to not shop.  This can stir a sense of gratitude for what you already have and gives you freedom from wanting or even coveting what you may not need. Plus, it also gives others a chance to Sabbath.

Resting

  • Take a nap.
  • If you tend toward being competitive, try a more leisurely pace. Drive more slowly.
  • Read for pleasure, especially something that encourages, lightens your spirit or inspires you.
  • Rest from media: news, advertisements, etc.
  • Free yourself from multi-tasking and allow the pleasure of giving your attention to one thing or one person.

Delighting

  • Enjoy a leisurely, agenda-less conversation with a friend or loved one.
  • Enjoy special foods, plates and dishes, or décor, but refrain from invoking the spirit of Martha Stewart.  Try eating more slowly to savor food.
  • Explore a new hobby.  Make art. Learn a new dance move.
  • Take a walk or hike in nature, fly a kite, play on the beach, kayak.  

Contemplating

  • Mark the beginning and ending of Sabbath by lighting a candle and saying a prayer and/or having a reading.  Suggested reading: Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems, selections from any book on Sabbath, or a psalm.
  • Take extra time to leisurely be with God in prayer.  Consider setting aside a chunk of time to listen to God, bringing a specific question to him.
  • At the end of the Sabbath period name the gifts that came to you in the time.

For Singles

  • In advance make a plan for how you will spend Sabbath. Consider what will be healthy and life-giving. Be aware if you need time alone with God or with others.
    • Join with other singles to intentionally celebrate Sabbath together. Interact with each other rather than screens: talking, storytelling, walking, bike riding, playing games. Intentionally direct meal conversations toward God.  What did God reveal to you this week about himself?  Where did you spot God this week?
  • If being with a family is important to you consider asking to join a family for their Sabbath meal.
  • Be intentional about marking the beginning and ending of Sabbath.

For Families

When we keep Sabbath, we do not take a break from loving those under our care. Remember, Jesus did GOOD on the Sabbath. Think about how you will model rest, delight and dependence on God for your children.

Stopping

  • Keep food simple.
  • Plan quality time that involves interacting with each other rather than screens: talking, storytelling, puzzling, playing board games.

Resting

  • When kids are a little older, practice a “slow” morning: everyone gets their own breakfast, read or Quiet Time or journal at leisurely pace. Choose a time to come together.

Delighting

  • Invite friends over to share a meal with you.  (The Gabourys have Pizza Night on Fridays that involves the whole family in preparation and an open invitation to friends to come join.)
  • Where it’s feasible and life-giving, be aware of singles in your community who might enjoy time with your family and vice versa.
  • A possible beginning or ending of Sabbath: Bless each other. Have a family member hold another family member’s face in their hands, look them in the eyes and say a brief blessing over them. Continue around so that each member both gives and receives a blessing.

Contemplating

  • Intentionally direct meal conversations toward God.  What did God reveal to you this week about himself?  Where did you spot God this week?
  • When children are young, take an extra few minutes when you lay them down for a nap, and as you watch them fall asleep bring to mind the gifts God has given you

Won’t you Sabbath with us this Lent? 

 

An Invitation To A Holy Lent (And Holy Rest)

Hi. My name is Christine and I’m a workaholic.

I have never attended a Workaholics Anonymous meeting but a quick Google search led me to their website which tells me that it’s “for people identifying themselves as powerless over compulsive work, worry, or activity including, but not limited to, workaholics–including overworkers and those who suffer from unmanageable procrastination or work aversion.”

Yup. That’s me alright.

Jimmy tells me that I have “noggin issues.” What he means is that my brain is always on overdrive. I don’t sleep well. I consistently wake up at 2 am, start thinking, can’t fall back asleep, will be up for 3-4 hours, fall back asleep for another hour and then get up to start the day.

There are a lot of reasons that might be causing my sleeplessness. I tried convincing my ob/gyn that I wasn’t sleeping well because I was pre-menopausal. She asked me, “Are you turning off your screens an hour before you sleep?” No. “Are you exercising regularly?” No. “Are you limiting your caffeine intake in the afternoons?” No. “You should probably try these things first before you start diagnosing yourself off of WebMD.”

computerchain

Why am I not turning off my screens before I sleep? Because there is always one more email to write. Why am I not exercising regularly? Because I pack my week so full of 10-12 hour days, my introverted self is exhausted and the last thing I want to do is exercise. Why am I not limiting my caffeine intake? Because I’m not sleeping or exercising and it’s the only thing giving my body a boost of energy.

If I dig deeper, it comes down to this reality that’s hard to admit: in my heart of hearts, I want to be God. I act like I am God. I think that if I stop working, everything will fall apart. If I stop working, people will think I’m not competent and on top of things. If I stop working, maybe I will have to confront that I can’t justify my worth and existence by the things that I accomplish.

litergical-year-pic-620

One of the things I love most about living the Christian year is that whether I’m aware of it or not, or feel ready for it or not, here it is. Winter gives way to spring every single year. The light of Christ’s revelation to the world that we celebrate and give witness to in Epiphany also “shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). What Lent does is give us the gift of being able to ask, where have I allowed the darkness of living life without God to seep in? Where have I elevated the gifts over and above the Giver? What habits have I become bound to that lead to death rather than the life and freedom that are found in Christ?

In other words, what do I need to die to in Lent so that I can live the new life of Easter more fully?

desert-maze-header-1260x624

There are 40 days of Lent. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. Jesus was in the desert for 40 days being tempted by the devil. Bobby Gross writes, “Humbled by hunger, the Israelites in the wilderness and Jesus in the desert understood experientially their daily dependence on God for physical sustenance; more profoundly, they relied on God for the life that lies beyond biology, life for our souls, ourselves… Hearing God’s Word and doing God’s will becomes food for us, Jesus teaches. Even more, he feeds us with himself: his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink.”

A few things to ponder in these days leading up to Lent:

  • Where have I gotten away from the Lord and how can I return to him with all my heart?
  • Is there something I can fast from that when I hunger for it, I can be reminded of my hunger for Christ?
  • Is there a practice I can take up that might help me reorient myself toward God and his kingdom?

At the risk of being like one of those people Jesus talks about in Matthew 6 who shows off their fasting, I’ll share my Lenten practices for this year. I’m going to fast from technology after 9 pm and before 8 am. And I’m committing (re-committing) to 24-hour Sabbath every week to stop work, rest, delight and contemplate God’s love and goodness and to be reminded that God is God and I am not.

There have been many of you who have expressed a desire to “keep the Sabbath holy.” The Sabbath was never intended to be individual but a communal practice for the people of God. The women of All Angels’ will be delving into this at our retreat at the end of March. This Sunday, March 3 as well as March 10, we’ll have a table downstairs with resources available for Sabbath and Lent.

Whether you decide to keep the Sabbath as your Lenten practice or not, I pray that this Lent, you will experience the Lord’s promise from Isaiah 30:15, “In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

**Here is the link to a sermon I preached in 2017 entitled “Sabbath In A Time Of Unrest” for an introduction to the Sabbath.

Where in the World is Christine?

The vicar is going places.

Jim and the wardens have given me some additional vacation time this summer which I am gladly taking! This past Sunday was my last Sunday till mid-August. Here’s what I’ll be up to:

Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA, June 17-26

fuller

When I tell people I’m getting a “demon” from Fuller Seminary, they look concerned. Why is Fuller giving out demons? And why would Christine want one?

Before you start performing an exorcism on me, a demon is a “D.Min” which stands for Doctor of Ministry. It’s a program geared toward full-time pastors and Christian leaders to strengthen and deepen their ministry practice in a particular area. I thought for sure that I was done with school but the opportunity to study with Dr. Tod Bolsinger was too good to pass up. He wrote Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership In Unchartered Territory, one of the best leadership books I’ve read in a long time. It scratches exactly where I am itching in this season of life and ministry leadership.

Dr. Bolsinger writes, “In a rapidly changing world, the primary task of leadership is to energize a community of people toward their own transformation in order to meet the challenges of the uncharted terrain before them.” And this begins with the leader. When I learned that Dr. Bolsinger had a demon cohort on leading congregational and organizational change, I thought, I’m in!

In Chicago, June 29-July 4

IMG_4302.JPG

(Chicago Cubbies!)

I’ll be back in NYC for two days, one of which will be spent with the staff finalizing plans for next year’s ministry calendar. Then I’m off to Chicago where my family will be congregating for my niece Kara’s wedding in what will surely be the coolest wedding celebration my family has ever experienced. She and her fiance are both artists and working as graphic designers. Word on the street is that their reception will be a circle of their favorite food trucks which I am of COURSE not more excited about than their actual marriage… their sacred union as husband and wife is infinitely more important than tacos as we ALL KNOW… [stomach grumbles]

In NYC, July 5-13

IMG_2970

(with my brothers Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life in Queens and Jordan Rice, lead pastor of Renaissance Church in Harlem)

That Sunday July 8th I’ll be preaching at New Life Fellowship in Queens, one of my favorite churches in New York City. They have over 70+ ethnicities represented in their congregation. I love their warmth, passion for the gospel, commitment to contemplative prayer and social justice, along with a good dose of emotionally healthy spirituality. I’m looking forward to strengthening relationships with the larger body of Christ in the city as we witness to the love of Christ together. I’ll be back in the church office the week of July 9 through 13 to do some mid-summer catchup and finalize fall plans.

Family Time in Korea, Thailand and the Adirondacks, July 14-August 18

 

 

(the adorable Kim family)

This leg of my summer is the part I’m most excited about. My family is scattered across the globe in Korea, Thailand and the States, and it is very rare that we are all able to be together for an extended period of time. It’s an interesting time to be there given all that has been happening in the news with North Korea. It’s questionable what Trump actually accomplished with Kim Jong Eun in Singapore so I’m thinking we need to get a real peacemaker in there and wrap this thing up. #vicargettingthingsdone #EnneagramType9

 

 

(going to be in my belly soon)

My sisters and I will then fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand where Grace and my brother-in-law Bob serve as missionaries with the Evangelical Covenant Church as the Asia Regional Coordinators. Having this precious time with my family is of course way more important than all the delicious Korean and Thai food that I’ll be eating along the way which is totally not the main reason I’m taking this trip. [stomach grumbles again]

jimmy

(good times with the hubby)

All this will be capped off in the Adirondacks with the one and only Jimmy Lee, my favorite person in the world. I’m looking forward to being out in nature, hiking, reading, taking naps and eating good food cooked by not me. (reading over this, I’m seeing a theme here…)

I’ll be back at church on Sunday, August 19, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, well-rested and well-fed. I hope you all have a wonderful summer and looking forward to sharing our summer adventures when I get back!