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Jeff Bethke closes out his latest book, “It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going To Heaven When You Die,” by saying, “…By the time you reach the last page, I had prayed you’d be closer to him, love him more, and see that this thing called Christianity is a dance of mystery, truth, grace and beauty.” Jeff certainly accomplished that and more with his beautiful book.
I have read this book three times and have highlighted so many gems within its covers, that I may as well have colored over every word on every page. Jeff has clearly been blessed with a huge heart for Jesus and desire to disciple others and those heartfelt sentiments leap off the pages as you read his words.
One thing that I have always loved about Jeff, is that even though he is younger than me (he’s 26 and I’m 42), his gift of mentoring is not bound by his age. God has blessed him with a gift of biblical insight that is engaging, refreshing and most of all, scripturally sound. I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home my entire life. I’ve studied my Bible for many years. However, every time I hear Jeff speak, watch a vlog or spoken word video he has made, or read something he’s written, I leave with a deeper understanding of the Word of God. This book is no different.
Jeff takes some key things about Jesus and his teachings, things you think you know, inside and out, and sheds a new light onto them. I could write about every chapter, but then this would be much longer than a blog post and you’d have no need to read Jeff’s book. Instead, I am going to share from my favorite chapter, which is Chapter 5, “The Sabbath’s Not What You Think.”
Jeff quotes John Piper in the beginning of Chapter 5. Piper says, “One of the greatest uses of Twitter and Facebook will to be to prove at the Last Days that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” Ouch. Jeff remarks that we all have time. It just comes down to how we use it.
Sabbath means rest. In our house, the Sabbath occurs on Sundays. I love to go to church because I NEED to go to church. I need that time to be in the presence of like minded believers, which I believe God has commanded us to do. (Hebrews 10:23-25: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.) I also need that time to get recharged for the week ahead. That time is equal to about 40-60 minutes, the actual length of the sermon. The rest of my typical Sabbath day looks a bit like this:
Wake up nearly forty five minutes late, with twenty minutes to get myself and my two kiddos up, dressed, and out the door. Once in the car, I toss a box a cereal to the backseat for them to eat on the way; that is, if I remembered to grab it. But, they’ll not eat any of it. You see, by this time, the kiddos, as usual, are arguing/name calling/hitting/crying, you get the idea, while I argue/yell/cry back at them, all on the six minute ride to church. Yup. Six minutes. A lot can occur between a ten year old and thirteen year old boy in the back seat of a small car within a short period of time. I arrive, rushed and feeling a tad frazzled, a few minutes before the start of Sunday School and drop them off to their classes, where one or both may have forgotten their Bibles and blamed the other, but not before pulling them away from the hot chocolate and donuts and telling them should have eaten in the car. (What?? Mother of the Year material.) Yes, I did remind them to bring their Bibles. MANY TIMES. I then rush off to teach my 2nd and 3rd grade Sunday School class, a mere few seconds before the arrival of my students. When they arrive, I set them to work copying their Memory Verse off of the white board while I take a few moments to silently pray and regroup before teaching. I finish teaching class, which I love, but I am still feeling a tad frazzled, as one is after her crazy morning followed by teaching a class of mostly second grade, highly active, boy kiddos (thank goodness I’m a boy mom, so I’m used to that!) I rush off to pick up my kiddos from their classes a bit late, because chances are, I had a parent pick up their child late. No worries, I am good. They’re only on morning announcements, so I didn’t miss the sermon. Oh shoot! I have a VBS announcement to make! Rush up front, before which, I deposited my kiddos in a pew with a death stare for a warning to behave themselves for just five seconds. Apparently, it didn’t work because I clinch my teeth and give my announcement as I see one of my kiddos slap the other upside the head. Sigh. Walk back to the pew to sit, where, without guilt, I smile a big grin as I push my younger kiddo out of the pew and nearly onto the floor when he is released to children’s church, but not before momentarily having a moment of panic. Is it my Sunday for children’s church? Count the date off on my fingers and sigh. No, no. That’s next week. Oh, I better write that down. Jot a note on the bulletin I will surely lose later. Proceed to enjoy sermon with my oldest kiddo. God is good. Charged with His word for the week ahead. Pick up my youngest from children’s church, and hear, “Your boy is so well behaved.” I smile and pat the head of said angel as I say thank you. Leave church to go home. Fighting ensues once again in the car. Seriously? Rush home, change one kid into soccer uniform and send the oldest to grab on the go lunch for everyone. Yup, soccer. See, last week, I relented to let my youngest who loves soccer, play a trial period on a traveling team on Sundays, breaking one of my own cardinal rules of no children playing organized sports on Sundays. He loves it, it doesn’t interfere with Sunday School, Church or Youth Group, and games are close by, so sure, let’s give it a try. Go to soccer and then come home and attend to getting last minute homework done and dinner before heading back to church for youth group and a parent’s meeting. Rush kids home afterwards and attend to finishing homework that somehow still slipped through the cracks, showers and bedtime. Whew! Time to myself! It’s only 9:30, so I can read my Bible/pray/catch up on a show/book. First, I’m going to shut my eyes for just a minute or two to rest . Suddenly, I jolt awake, sitting straight up, on the couch at three a.m. I drag myself up the stairs to bed. Sleep some more until the alarm goes off at six a.m.
That is my typical Sabbath. Sound familiar?
Jeff notes that we are afraid of rest. Afraid of silence. Afraid of idle time. He suggests that if you were to ask someone how they were, chances are that they are not answering, “Great!” or “I feel so peaceful and filled up right now,” but instead will respond with answers of how busy they are. He notes that we can say that Jesus is our God but it looks like work is our functional God. Scientific studies show that our need for speed is killing two huge parts of what it means to be human-creativity and empathy. Not giving ourselves time to rest impairs our ability to empathize. My question to myself when reading this chapter, is what then am I passing on to my kids?
Jeff shared about a visit to Jerusalem he had experienced a couple of years back and how experiencing the Sabbath with the family he was staying with changed his perspective of the Sabbath. So much so, that when he returned home, he and his wife changed the way they observed Sabbath in their home. He noted that his friend’s home was right in the middle of the city, between Old City and the busyness of a big city. His friend’s family very much slowed down and took celebrating the Sabbath to heart. The entire family participated, even the kids. They did so joyfully. They began by reminding everyone the day was about ceasing, about resting, about enjoying. They blessed their five kids. They prayed with and over Jeff and his wife. They sang. They danced. They opened a bottle of wine and had an amazing meal. No electronics. No woofing down food to rush off to play video games or watch TV, or attend a game. Jeff realized that that was what life was about: Relationships. Food. Deep Conversations. Intimacy. I love this quote from Jeff:
“Sabbath is when heaven and earth meet in time-in a moment…Honoring Sabbath is saying no; time is sacred…The Sabbath is a rhythm deeply woven into the cosmos. It’s part of creation’s DNA. God didn’t rest because he needed rest; Genesis 2 tells us the rest was a celebration, an inauguration. A day of filling the earth with his presence. So if God on the first Sabbath flooded the earth with his presence to both signify the completion of creation and to have a day to especially fuse himself to that creation, then it only makes sense to celebrate it the same way.”
Jeff refers back to Genesis 2. He teaches the reader that even though the Sabbath was the seventh day of creation, it was Adam and Eve’s first day of life. Adam wasn’t there for the moon and the stars, animals or plants. He was the crowning act of creation and when God breathes life into his nostrils, he becomes a living being. Then God rests. From Adam’s perspective, the first full day he saw as a human was a day of rest. A day of filling. For God, it was six days of work and then rest, but for Adam, his first day was rest, and only then could he truly work. Jeff goes on to say that Christianity should be one huge party. He’s here! God’s among us! Look what he’s done! He saved us, so let’s celebrate! That’s what sabbathing is: setting one day a week aside to party. To dance. To sing. To eat. And to love.
Jeff says that simply put, Sabbath is a calling for delight. He asks at the end of the chapter a question: Do you treat Sabbath as a day of delight or a day of boredom? What fills you up? What gives you delight? What makes you feel new? He then issues a challenge: Whatever your answer-if in line with the new heavens and earth ethic-then do that thing. Paint. Eat. Laugh. Hike. That’s Sabbath and that’s worship.
That hit me in the gut. While my intentions are good and heartfelt, I want to celebrate and worship on Sundays, I’m totally going about the Sabbath completely wrong. It should not look like the rushed messed of a day I described above. My kids sure aren’t learning very much by observing me rush around crazy and frazzled on a Sunday. In this way, our Sundays, our supposed day of Sabbath, are more perfunctory than anything else, and it’s just something else to fit in in an otherwise busy day. What would happen if I changed the routine of Sabbath in my home? What would happen if I got up earlier and made a nice breakfast for my family before church, instead of grabbing the box of cereal and bringing it in the car. What if we arrived earlier to church to take advantage of the time to talk with our church family instead of busily saying hi or waving? What if I made sure homework never fell through the cracks to show up Sunday afternoons? What if I made an intentional effort to say no to all other things on Sundays, except for a day of delight? What would I do with a free afternoon and evening before and after church activities that would add to a day of delighting in the Sabbath? What other ways of creative worship could we do as a family or with friends? What would Sabbath then look like for my kiddos? How would the week be that followed?
It’s a challenge that I am going to begin this week with a baby step. This Sunday, I am going to get up earlier and fix my family a nice, unrushed breakfast before we head off to church. My oldest loves bacon, but I rarely prepare it. After all, bacon takes time to make. Time isn’t something with have a lot of in our mornings full of rush. What would happen if I plan something after church that doesn’t involve rush, homework or TV. What will my kids take away from the Sabbath into adulthood when they are raising their own families? I am praying that you do the same. Each Sunday, I’m going to add a little more or something different to our day of delighting in the Sabbath and let you in on our progress along the way. Do you care to join me in the journey? I’d love to hear from you! Be sure to comment below.
In the meantime, I urge you to pick up your own copy of “It’s Not What You Think.” Get a cup of coffee or tea, and a highlighter. It’s a lovely read. You can pick up a copy from one of my favorite booksellers: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Books A Million.
Until next time, remember, He’s got your back!