The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

It’s a shame, really, how quick we are to criticize Martha of Bethany for her busyness. Maybe it is because we feel the prick of conscience over our own crammed-full days, and the nagging sense that we are losing more important things in the rush. We can relate to her, and when Jesus tells Martha to stop fussing and come sit down with Him we feel the indictment in our own souls…know how long it has been since we have truly listened to Jesus’ words, let them sink in and take root…how hard it is for us to just enjoy His presence…how impossible it seems to find enough space and peace to hear the quiet voice of His Spirit.

But in our wry admission that we should probably learn to be more like sister Mary, we miss some important details in the story. Like the fact that Jesus’ tone of voice was probably not nearly as accusing as the one we level at ourselves. Do we really think that the Person who looked right at a woman caught in the act of adultery and refused to throw a stone at her– looked her in the face and said “…neither do I condemn you….Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)— that this same Person would look at a woman working hard to serve a houseful of tired hungry guests and rebuke her harshly? We may not be able to hear His original tone of voice, but we do know the nature of the One speaking. We know that He loves Martha and her family. We know He will say just the right words in the right tone to reach through Martha’s frazzled state to her heart. Because that is Who He Is.

And let’s not miss the surprise and consternation of everyone in the room, at the fact that Jesus is inviting the women of the household to sit down with them as students and followers– something unheard of for a Teacher in the ancient Jewish culture. Martha was only voicing what every man there was already thinking about the impropriety of her sister, and Jesus took the opportunity to turn their cultural norms upside-down. This story is much more about Jesus valuing women and accepting them into the Kingdom as full equals to men, than it is about Him settling a domestic quarrel. He was always about the Father’s business, and still He calls us, as women, to lay down our To-Do lists and find our strength and hope in Him alone.

We can also lose sight of the fact that Martha was an admirable hostess. In a culture that valued hospitality and showing honor to guests, she was doing exactly what she had been taught to do, and doing it well. And there is every indication that she took Jesus up on His invitation to sit and learn along with the men, because it is she who verbalizes her faith in Jesus so powerfully beside the grave of her beloved brother: “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask….I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:22, 27) When we next see her, she is still in the kitchen serving, right where she feels most comfortable, doing what she does best out of love and thankfulness to her Teacher and Lord. Knowing Jesus’ heart for people, we can be sure He took the time to praise her cooking and express His appreciation for her service. Martha has taken the time to listen and know Jesus, and now she knows herself better too. We might benefit from following her example.

We find Jesus speaking peace to our own rushed and stressed hearts in this story, letting us know that He values what we do, but He so much more values who we are and how we are growing. He calls us away from the expectations of others, and the cultural values by which we measure ourselves; He calls us into His freedom where the only standards are growing to be more like Him, and Grace covering all our shortfall. In His eyes what matters is my bearing the image of God in this world, and learning to know Him better each day. In His eyes, what matters is the way I serve Him in love, with the abilities He gave me…the way I come alongside others and help them to see Him better. These are the important things that will last forever– “the one thing worth being concerned about… that will not be taken away…” (Luke 10:42)

So He will continue to say to us, patiently, gently, as often as we need to hear it: “My dear…you are worried and upset over all these details!” (Luke 10:41) Stop trying to measure up and come and rest in My love.

**Title taken from Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message.

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Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Colossians 3:15-17

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To hear Your voice,
To call You friend,
To know Your thoughts–
How rare how beautiful.
You’re with me here;
I feel You breathing;
You’re closer than I thought was possible.
So I’ll rest right here with You.
So I’ll rest right here with You.

Rest, Kari Jobe

When You Need a Clear Path Through the Wilderness

We mark our way through November, silently counting as this strange year winds down to the end. Counting off the days, counting up the blessings “coming down from the Father of heavenly lights.” And we can count ourselves blessed that when everything around us shifts and quakes until we hardly recognize the life we are living, still He “does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) The very act of thanks-giving plants our soul in the truth of the Giver’s goodness, of His unchanging nature. Make no mistake, gratitude is warfare– one simple constant refrain that shuts up the Enemy’s whispers about whether God is actually on our side.

It is as simple as this: the act of paying attention to God’s gifts and saying thank you opens my eyes to see Him present and active in my life. I need that constant reminder that I am His beloved child, especially when the winds blow hard, because the only way to get through the howling storm is to keep my eyes fixed on Him. And I need to remember over and over that all is gift, because it is so easy to slide into a sense of entitlement about what I have.

When I start to be consumed with the things I lack, or to obsess over what I might lose, or to compare what I have with what someone else has been given, it’s like losing my compass, and who knows what sad and hurtful paths I’ll tumble down before I finally come to my senses. After you get lost in the dark enough times you start to learn the importance of staying close to the Shepherd, to feel how good is His care. Being thankful re-orients my heart’s affection on the Giver of all things…reminds me that the very air I breathe is grace.

And when I can’t think of anything to thank Him for, I know it’s my focus that has shifted away from the Father, not His attention toward me. It is the red-flag warning that my vision is clouding over; I am trying to write my own story, instead of following where He leads. Funny how quick we are to criticize the wandering Israelites for being so blind. How could they keep whining about the good old days of planting cucumbers by the Nile when they were eating food God literally rained down on them? It seems like we all suffer from a blind eye–wanting a quick fix to our problems, an escape from the wilderness, any attractive thing– instead of cherishing the daily miracle of manna. Gratitude opens my eyes to see the bigger picture of God’s amazing plans.

It always surprises me how the Weeping Prophet could be living through a tragedy, but still could say somehow, “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23) When I choose to be thankful for God’s daily lovingkindness, I am setting aside my ideas of how things should be, and submitting to what He wants to do. Choosing to be thankful declares that I trust His loving rule. Telling Him I am thankful brings peace to my heart. Such a small simple practice that anchors the spirit in hope and blazes a trail through the wilderness.

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Let all the earth, let every heart,
Come and sing how great You are;
Not even death could overcome
Jesus Christ, the King of love.
The curse of sin is broken now;
No fear, no lie will hold me down.
The Son of Man reigns over all–
Jesus Christ, the King of love

All my praise could never be enough
To give You thanks for all You’ve done.
Forever I will lift You up,
Jesus Christ, the King of love.

King of Love, Jesus Culture

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And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise….Then the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

Of Small Seeds and Little Lunches

Sometimes I wish I could say it louder, or different, or with more profound words to make it sink in to faltering hearts: Faith heroes and prayer warriors and legacy makers aren’t born that way. They do not inherently possess any piercing clarity of wisdom or rock-solid certainty of vision or even spotless purity of spirit. The heroes are just the ones who persevere, one hard step at a time. The warriors are the people who pour out their hearts to God every day, and labor over the hard things, until they want to see Him more than they want their answers. The legacy makers are those who decide to be faithful in the small things, doing whatever is in front of them with a desire to please the One who called them, and leaving the outcome in His hands.

What makes them great is that they kept pressing on in faith, even when they felt like they had lost their way…even when they felt bogged down in the mundane…even when they could not see any good outcomes from where they were sitting… because you see, there simply is no way to get from here to there except through the ordinary moments of Everyday. And the Church-Planter reminds the early believers, that this is all they need to do, because God is doing all the heavy lifting in this relationship: God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful. (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

See, the people we look up to and aspire to become are forged in the ordinary ups and downs of gritty everyday life. They are the slow growth of hundreds of small self-denials and choices to stand in the light, and only they know the tears and doubts and sleepless nights along the way. You don’t need to be gifted and strong and capable, or wake up one day with all your issues resolved– you just need to take the next step toward God. And then do it again tomorrow.

Jesus used the story-picture of a mustard seed, and said nothing would be impossible if it were offered up into God’s hands. Then He showed them in living color what He was talking about, when a child held out his food, released it into Jesus’ hands and they all watched it grow into a feast for thousands. And it strikes me how this little boy thought he would go hungry for the day, when he gave up his lunch as a love-gift to the rabbi who was teaching them about God. He had no idea what Jesus intended to do with it, no aspirations of greatness. He just took a small step of serving someone else on a long hot day by the lake, despite his own needs, and ended up in the middle of a miracle.

And in all our ordinary days of needs and disappointments and expectations, that is always what it comes down to– will we choose to do the right thing, walk toward the light, offer up our small seed of faith, choose hope, lean on grace? Again and again, in and out of weeks and through all the seasons and changes of life, until someday we will be able to look back and see how far we have come in our faith-journey and know it was worth it. The Church-Planter Paul assured us it would be more than worth it, as he leaned hard into God’s promises: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18).

And who knows, from the outside looking in, someone else might well be saying Someday I want to be just like her.

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This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me;
This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very Word spoken to me
And I…
I’m desperate for you
And I…
I’m lost without you

Breathe, Marie Barnett

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Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

We Belong to Each Other

You would think that the easiest place to walk as a child of light is with other light-dwellers. Yes. In a place where minds are encouraged by Christ’s love, and spirits are alive by the same Spirit of God, and hearts are tender and compassionate because of His work within…yes, in this situation the Church-planter Paul affirms that our joyful response should be “…agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2) From his perspective, the Family of God should be an everyday illustration of God’s love and grace, reaching out to the people of the world– a living temple for God’s presence. It sounds like the ideal family, doesn’t it?

And yet Paul takes the time to instruct the early church at length in how to make that happen, over the course of many different letters, and even scolding those who are behaving poorly with one another. Clearly relationships within the Family of God are a good bit more work than we might expect. In Peter’s letter we find him echoing the same thoughts, and this time it is in the middle of all his examples of living an everyday life of excellence: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:7-10) Both Paul and Peter aren’t afraid to get into the practical nuts and bolts of how to live as children of the light, nor do they hide the fact that it is liable to be difficult at times. Whether we are talking about work relationships, marriage, respecting government, or getting along with fellow believers, our behavior should be above reproach so that we will bring glory to the God who called us into His kingdom. At the same time, we will be shining God’s light into the darkness the way Jesus did when He walked here Himself.

Peter describes a community of genuine friendship, brotherly love for one another. The kind of friends who truly care when you are going through difficulties, and come alongside to help. People of compassion and humility– not looking out for their own interests, but looking to serve others. An adopted family of peacemakers, focusing on the eternal bond we share in Christ instead of on the earthly differences that can pull us apart. He fully expects the early believers to voluntarily hold the same values, not because they are culturally homogeneous, but because they have all turned away from earthly perspectives and are devoted to the same cause of building the Kingdom of Light.

Paul affirms that this is expected and normal for Christ-followers who share life together: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15) After all, in God’s eyes every one of us is a sinner saved by His own gracious consent into the Kingdom of Light, regardless of where we have come from, or our situation in life. All the earthly distinctions that we pride ourselves on are as temporary as this world– the person we are becoming on the inside is what we get to take into eternity. Beloved author Madeleine L’Engle rightly observed that “We draw people to Christ…by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.

And we can see this theme of beautiful light running through Peter’s letter, and the Christ-followers shining into the darkness to draw others to God. Day by day they look more and more like Jesus.

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-2, 4-5

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What I share with other believers is not just a mutual interest, as if we were all members of a global fan club. We are members of His global family, with the same Father, the same Spirit, the same hope. Blood might be thicker than water, but Jesus’s blood is thicker still.

Bronwyn Lea

New Every Day

Somehow, counting out these blessings each day has a vulnerable feel to it. How many good things does the heart need, to be able to call it a happy day? Who am I depending on for my good, really? What do I actually believe about a sovereign God? And how easily a harsh word or a deep hurt or a lingering anxiety overwhelms any number of blessings. Even this sobering freedom that I get to choose how my heart is growing– I can respond to any situation with a thankful heart, or not, and it is sad how often my first instinctive reaction is something other than gratitude. No question about it, when we consciously place ourselves in the radiance of God’s presence, we can see more clearly the gap between what we believe and what we live.

Bending my will to this spiritual discipline of gratitude keeps peeling away the layers of self-sufficiency and wish-to-control, and as one day’s list gives way to the blank page of the next, it’s remarkable how much giving thanks feels like trust. My heart can still stutter hard, knowing that provision for today does not guarantee the same for tomorrow. The unknown can loom large in the night, and problems take on nightmare quality under the lens of What If. It is here that I have to choose again…. Can I trust the Grace that was enough for today to be big enough for tomorrow’s uncertainties? And it’s like I can hear Jesus saying, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) I get that there’s an assurance of troubles, and it makes good sense not to spend your worry before it’s due, but this is hardly encouraging news for wannabe-thankfuls. I have to back up and read over and again the most important part of Jesus’ sentence: “…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…” (Matthew 6:33) My focus on living as a Christ-follower keeps me living in the present under His care. My thankfulness for the great gift of salvation and trust in the Father’s goodness gives my heart peace.

So it is both what I desire and what God provides that is guarding today and tomorrow. And I can see how when I want His presence more than anything else, these daily blessings are like manna, everyday evidence that He is here with me. I pick up each one and give thanks, believing that it will be enough for whatever I am facing today. And tomorrow will have its own simple graces, along with whatever troubles may come. I can trust Him in this. Each day Jesus promises to me again, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The prophet Jeremiah saw it clearly: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) God’s gifted goodness is fresh and fully abundant each morning as I rise. And His faithfulness ensures enough for all the days to come. So I choose yet again to trust, and I walk through another day with eyes wide open, looking forall the ways my Father loves me.

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The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does.

Psalm 145:14-17

We have no idea what it is that God is saving us from every single day we wake up with breath.

Shelly Miller

Of Snowfall and Forgiveness and All Things New

They keep calling for snow, and it happens this way every year, waiting for the first deep blanket of white to hide the bleakness of Winter. It’s like the world has been reduced to its bare bones, and shivers beneath the gray sky, waiting for a covering. And after the rushing around and the beauty of the holiday decorations sometimes it feels like everything has come to a dead stop. You can catch a glimpse of huddled hearts, just trying to survive in this world…putting on a good face and waiting for something to change…feeling like a failure…wishing for a chance to start fresh.

The tree and the holiday decorations are still here, because now I can actually slow down and soak them in. The lights shine bright in the Winter gloom. Every time I see the field of stars and the soaring angel in the nativity, I remember telling the children about Jesus’ birth, and how creation itself sang out, “Welcome, welcome, we are so happy You are here!” It was the best present ever. I think of how often I have yearned for the happiness of Christmas to cover all the aching broken places– but there is only so much you can fix, and don’t we all wish the Peace on earth, goodwill to men could go on after the calendar page turns? I want to believe that the wounds of this world can heal. It’s seeing hearts change, and souls mended, lives turned around for good that keeps me hanging onto hope. And as I contemplate the rough wood of the stable in this Winter light, I see the cross there, too– it is beautiful awe-full Mystery, how the stuff of creation becomes an altar upon which the Creator offers Himself up.

And January hangs on the wall: an invitation to new beginnings, the anticipation of new possibilities whispering in our hearts because of Emmanuel, God with us forevermore. Listen hard, and you can hear the longing for God to make a way where there seems to be no way, as we search for our One Word, and dive into new projects, and refocus on healthy habits. We are all in the same boat, wanting reassurance for the regrets of the past year, and a hope for the year to come…that somehow these months will be meaningful and count for something of worth in the long run. By now I have learned that filling in those days with my own ideas and efforts is only a recipe for exhaustion; it is His presence that covers each moment with significance. So I wait and listen for His voice. And the song of the Musician-King keeps running through my head: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name….” (Psalm 23:1-3) I couldn’t want anything better for the New Year.

The snow comes in the night, silently overlaying yesterday’s footsteps, and we wake to a world made new. It makes me think of what we have been talking about in our small group, how the original meaning of the word righteousness was more about God making things right than about us doing things right. God is showing His righteousness when He delivers His people from the enemy; when He provides for them; when He brings justice and upholds the needy; when He covers them with His love and says I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15) Blessed are the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness the way a dying man longs for water, because God has given us Himself at Christmas, to make everything right again. The past that you wish you could escape; the loss you are trying to survive; the fear that hangs over your head; the hard angry feelings you just want to let go of…this is why Jesus came, to bring us His righteousness, His making-things-new, and He’s saying Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

We walk into the New Year, and there is His covering of grace everywhere I look.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again-?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

Here Again, Elevation Worship

With You

Some days you just need to sit quietly and remember that there is Someone who loves you best of all, and He is good. Acknowledge all the fears that push to the surface in the quiet of the night. Fully face the emotions that you can ignore by keeping busy. Pour them out before your Father and let Him gather them up in His strong arms…gather you up, and draw you close to His heart that does not change, does not waver in its utter commitment to you.

“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love Me. I will protect those who trust in My name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them My salvation.’” (Psalm 91:14-16)

Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.

I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

As I walk now through the valley,
Let Your love rise above every fear.
Like the sun shaping the shadow,
In my weakness Your glory appears.

Not for a minute
Was I forsaken;
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.
Come Holy Spirit–
Dry bones awaken!
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.

I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again?

Elevation Worship

What Do You Want Most?

You can ask for something and not even realize what it is you really long for. And sometimes the not-getting is as much a discovery and a gift as receiving your heart’s desire. But it takes time to learn all that. Time, and tears, and asking for all the things you want while you wrestle with the things that are. Time and opportunity to see the Savior standing in the middle of your darkness shining His light until you finally realize it’s all the same to Him. And suddenly I remember the Musician-King singing about this very thing “…even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:11-12) It takes time to see that if He is standing in the middle, lighting up any dark circumstance, I can be at peace there too. Funny, isn’t that just what the Church-planter Paul has been saying all along? ” Don’t worry about anything….Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

But things like that you only learn from experience, like the Twelve did in their boat on the Sea of Galilee. When you hear with your own ears the Master’s voice commanding the wind and the waves, and see with your own eyes how they obey Him, you know Who is truly in control of all things. When you feel the frightened beating of your own heart, and how everything quiets in His presence, you realize He is fighting for you and you can simply trust like a child. But learning these things takes time, and when needs press the heart, waiting is the last thing we want.

Someone mentioned to me recently that surely God would respond to a person’s faith in asking for healing. Surely there was no lack of faith, and the faithful servant who asked would be better off made whole. Surely God would answer, because He is good. He is certainly that, but maybe it isn’t about faith or healing at all. Maybe it is about something God values even more, because He is perfectly good. Our eyes are only on the outcome we desire, but He is looking at what can happen in the meantime, as we seek His face. His desires for us are “…immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20), and there are things He can accomplish in the waiting that turn out to be the healing our hearts need most. I can hang on tightly to what I want– the solution I can figure out myself, and want immediately– or I can relax my grip and turn to look at Jesus’ light, trusting that He is bringing good things in the waiting. Maybe the answers I want will come, and maybe they will not, and it will still be okay because He promised. And I remember the prophet Jeremiah, who wept for his people long ago and could still say: “The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:25-26)

Strengthen my heart to want You most, Lord Jesus. I know that in the end, there’s nothing worth more than having more of You.

“Which of you, if your 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

But faith is not measured by our ability to manipulate God to get what we want. It is measured by our willingness to submit to what He wants.

Tricia Lott Williford

Discovering Sabbath

As a kid, I always thought keeping the Sabbath was the boring commandment. It meant that on Sunday we got dressed up and went to church, had a big dinner, took a nap, spent time with family. Good stuff, all of it, but if you were going to pick out ten rules to live by, that one seemed a bit tame– or just downright out-of-place, stuck in there with respecting the name of the Almighty, telling the truth, and not murdering other people. Like maybe we got up to nine big ones, and reached for one more to make an even and memorable ten? But if we do believe that those Ten Commandments actually came from the hand of God Himself, written down as foundational for a nation under His rule, then somehow that guideline for Sabbath is vital, and there is something about a day set apart that God finds precious and necessary. At the very least it should spark our curiosity to understand His intention for Sabbath rest. Maybe it is not until we find ourselves overwhelmed by life…at the mercy of grief…exhausted by what it takes to keep our heads above water… that rest becomes a treasure to seek out, and we begin to understand how very vital it is to a soul’s well-being.

At its heart, Sabbath is a call to come home to the presence of God. It seems self-evident, like we would not need to set aside a whole day just for that purpose, but the very fact that He wanted to write it down for us underscores how easily we forget to simply come. In all our building of a life and pursuing relationships and seeking happiness, the hours of the day fill up fast, and we fall into bed at night exhausted with ourselves. Sabbath woos us to rest. It whispers to stop from all our striving and rest in the goodness of our Provider…to wash the dust of the week away and be refreshed. It gives us space to enjoy simple things like family and naps and long walks and ice cream… to be thankful. It is a kind of re-set for the spirit, a reminder that despite all our day-to-day efforts, the life that matters comes from our connection to Jesus, the Vine.

Sabbath reminds me who I am. It is time and space to pause everything I am doing and just Be. Be loved, be accepted, be forgiven, be fully present with Someone who knows me, and stay long enough to hear the song He is singing over me. In His presence my soul finds rest and healing from battering expectations and anxious thoughts and gnawing insecurities. And when I gather with other Christ-followers I can rest from running against the current of culture for awhile. We can join with like minds and speak the same language of worship and need. And the truth is, I need this breakaway time if I am going to keep on running the faith-race well for another week.

When I really understand Sabbath and its vital importance to my spirit, I know exactly why God wrote it in His Top Ten list. He knew that our weakness was the desire to be self-sufficient, to build a kingdom for self to rule, and how easily we accept the lie that we are enough in ourselves. So God writes it down for us: Set apart a day for Sabbath. In all your busy planning and building, take time to step back and remember that you are created– that you belong to Someone Else and are only one small part of His great big world. Take a day to rest, to be thankful for His provision, to acknowledge that you need His grace, to rejoice in His love for you. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8)

Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between Me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.

Exodus 31:13

The Sabbath is not part of a trendy self-help program. It is a part of heaven and a glimpse of God. Sabbath is not one day of vacation a week. It is part of the most solid and tangible time of life. The Sabbath balances the active parts of life with the holy parts. Jesus needed both to be fully human, and so do we.

24/6, Matthew Sleeth

A Place to Call Home

I hear Church-planter Paul making amazing faith declarations, like “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am,” (Philippians 4:12) and I know that this is no small thing, because I’ve read the travel journal he left behind. He spent most of his life uprooted, on the road, hunted down, in pain, cold and hungry. At odds with the culture around him. But still he could think of himself as peaceful and happy, because he had already found a home in God. His heart is on full display in his letters: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him….” (Philippians 3:8-9)

I know in my spirit that what Paul says is right and true– that Christ is a treasure, worth more than anything else in this world. I also recognize that my heart has a long way to go before it can find joy in every loss, if it means having more of Jesus. But maybe that’s not one big lesson I have to learn all at once. Maybe it is more like countless in-the-moment choices to invite Jesus into my experiences. Maybe it is as simple as accepting His invitation to come live with Him, and do as He says. “Now remain in My love. If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.” (John 15:9-10) Just come near to Jesus and live there, this one day. Then do it all over again tomorrow. And whenever you wander away– when emotions get bullied by circumstances and thoughts whirl– just turn around and run Home again where you are safe and Someone loves you best of all. We understand that He gives eternal life, but somehow that seems like a far away destination most of the time. We forget that when Jesus talked about being reborn, it was for the here and now. See, eternity isn’t something waiting for after we die. New life begins the moment we ask Him to remake us, when we begin living in the Eternal One. Jesus describes it in gardening terms: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Maybe it is easiest for us to understand when we feel alive and growing, and we can see the fruit He is producing in us. I know how the hard days can blind the heart, so that we rush into instinctive flight…or fight back with whatever is readily on hand. As if we could ever beat back the darkness of this world with more of the same. But the secret Paul learned is that even in times of loss and pain and fear, God’s presence was his refuge, a safe place to run. He wrote in one of his letters, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation… present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Live with Him, talk to Him, thank Him, expect Him to answer. This is how Jesus wants us to understand His simple everyday invitation, and He promises that when we stay close to Him, our prayers are already worked into God’s plans. When life is difficult, there is no better place to live, to put down roots, than the Source of all comfort and strength and healing. Just keep coming Home with your needs and trust the loving Father to take care of you. The Musician-King set it to music some thousand years before: “Whsoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ ” (Psalm 91:1-2)

Not all of us have known the blessing of a healthy home on this earth, but we all do share that longing. We want to have that commitment to family, day in and day out, until memory overlays memory, all the good and the bad shared by people who love one another, and the place becomes rich with it. We want that comfortable haven where we can be most ourselves, the place we feel accepted and secure, at peace. Sometimes the days are messy and struggling, but we choose to persevere, hold onto faith that it will work out for good. This creates a place to call home, whether we’re taking about a place with walls and a door, or a residence for your spirit. This is what Paul learned day by day: to make his heart’s home in Christ’s presence– through good and bad, obeying what Jesus had taught him and trusting His love. Until after all the years he could say without a shadow of a doubt that it had been worth it. That what he had lost didn’t even matter in light of all that he had gained. And if you think about it, what could you possibly lack when you have an intimate relationship with the God of heaven and earth? Paul’s home was wherever Jesus was, and Jesus had never left him, no matter what strange lands Paul traveled. It was a connection as elemental as a plant rooted and flourishing in a vineyard.

So this is how we begin, simply as children, taking Jesus’ outstretched hand and staying close beside Him one day and then the next. Just keep on coming Home to His presence. In all those small choices– to obey, to trust, to be close to Him– we are growing strong and secure in His love. And someday we will be able to say confidently with Paul, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

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Can’t go back to the beginning;
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring;
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.
I’m not enough unless You come–
Will You meet me here again?
‘Cause all I want is all You are–
Will You meet me here again ?


Not for a minute
Was I forsaken….
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.

Here Again, Elevation Worship