Lenten Devotional – March 12, 2023

Sunday, March 12, 2023
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Marva Dawn
Lenten Devotional by Michaela Eskew

Marva Dawn, in her book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, focuses on four main themes of Sabbath Keeping: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, and Feasting. Over the next four days, we will explore each of these themes in depth.

The main focus of her theme, Ceasing, is for the reader to understand that we are to use the Sabbath as a reminder that we are not God, and we shouldn’t try to be. As she seeks to make her reader understand the immense blessings that can come with keeping a sabbath holy, she must begin with reflecting on what needs to cease in order to make that space possible. We must cease to work seven days of the week (and that includes the chores that we leave till the weekend). We must cease to seek out productivity and accomplishment so much that it causes us anxiety and tension on our days off. We must cease to rely on ourselves and instead rely on God.

Now many of us immediately look at our schedules… how could we possible keep a sabbath that doesn’t include at least a little bit of work? Things must continue to get done: food needs to be cooked, dogs need to be walked, yardwork needs to be kept up. How do we rest, and how can we possibly enjoy it when those everyday tasks linger over us?

It may seem foolish to give the day to God when you could be so much more efficient with your time, but Dawn shares a great value that comes with giving power back to God one day a week. She writes, “Letting God be God in our lives does not, of course, mean passivity. We do not simply sit back and say that God is in charge of our work. Rather, when we get our priorities straight and remember that God is God and that we are merely his servants, we are empowered to do all that we can to be good stewards of the gifts and resources we have been given.” Prayer thoughts:
All-Powerful God, help us to cease our strivings and instead take a breath. Amen.

*I struggled with Marva Dawn’s book. I found it hard to relate to her work as my life, practices, and worldview are different than hers. While I would not recommend this book, I wrote these devotions on four different topics that she raised that I do believe hold great value for sabbath-seeking Christian believers. 

Lenten Devotional – March 11, 2023

Saturday, March 11, 2023
Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
Lenten Devotional by Georgie Bever

“So it is:  we are not given a short life, but we made it short . . .”
Seneca, On the shortness of Life
As quoted in Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

Have you ever seen a family in a restaurant waiting for their food and all of them were staring at their cell phones?  Have you ever been the family in a restaurant waiting for your food, and all of you were staring at your cell phones? Why bother to go out for a meal if you aren’t interested in the people you are having the meal with? What a waste of time and money.

As you prepare to learn to actually celebrate the Sabbath as it was intended, give thought to what distracts you from life.  Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals discussed one of the alternatives to pulling out the cell phones when we should be enjoying each other’s company.  He proposes that having a conversation, especially with the extended family, is frightening to many of us.  It causes us anxiety.  One teenager explained to his mom that he used his cell phone so he would look “busy” and the relatives wouldn’t ask him questions he didn’t want to answer.

But does that explain why the couple in the restaurant are both staring at their cell phones?  Sort of.  We have forgotten how to have conversations.  Or is it that we have been taught not to have conversations?  Have you ever sat with a toddler and had them talk to you almost non-stop using gibberish?  Or it sounds like gibberish to you, but you shake your head yes and respond and hug them.  Younger children will ask you why?  Or pester you with “what is that?”  Or “how does that work?”  But by the time they are teenagers, it is very difficult to have a conversation with them.  Why?  What have we done to “teach” them not to have a conversation with us?  And it goes downhill from there. 

As we take a hard look at our 4,000 Sabbaths, can you look back on the ones you’ve already lived and say, “Gee, I wish I had played more video games.”  OR “I wish I’d spent more time on Facebook.”  Rather, I think I’m sad that I didn’t have more conversations with my friends.  I’m sad I didn’t take more walks in the mountains or at the seashore.  I’m sad I didn’t sit in a garden and thank my Father for the beauty of his creation.  But we can turn that around.  We still have some of those Sabbaths left.  I hope you’ll join with me in focusing our efforts on really celebrating that truly awesome gift from God – The Sabbath.

Prayer thoughts:
Have a conversation with the Creator of the Sabbath about how you want to learn his will for your Sabbath experiences.  Take time to think about what distracts you from really experiences God’s gifts.

Lenten Devotional – March 10, 2023

Friday, March 10, 2023
Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
Lenten Devotional by Georgie Bever

“ . . pausing in your work for long enough to enter the coherent, harmonious, somehow thicker experience of time that comes with being ‘on the receiving end’ of life, the feeling of stepping off the clock into ‘deep time,’ rather than ceaselessly struggling to master it.”
Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals

Can you imagine a rest and restoration that might come with sitting alone on a warm beach watching and listening to the waves role in?  Just watching.  Shut your eyes, and just listen.  Feel the warmth on your face.  Feel just a whisper of a breeze on your neck.  Just be.  This is ‘deep time.’

Can you imagine sitting alone on top of a hill in a grassy meadow and seeing nothing but the valley below?  Smell the air.  Feel the breeze.  Hear the breeze rustle the grass.  Just be.  This is ‘deep time.’

Can you imagine sitting with your family with the fireplace burning?  Feel the love surrounding you.  Hear the family remembering a fun time you all shared.  Smell the meal cooking – the spices and herbs.  Just be.  This is ‘deep time.’

This is the Sabbath our Father planned for us. 

Can you play a musical instrument?  Can you ride a bicycle?  Can you walk?  Can you read?  Although our Father gave you the ability to do these things, you weren’t good when you first began.  It took practice.  It took making mistakes.  You failed a few times.  But you kept doing it – over, and over, and over.  Then it became easier.  Now you can do it without much thought.  It is the same way with learning to really experiencing the Sabbath that God made for you.

A baby knows how to experience the Sabbath.  Watch a baby sit and finger a blanket.  He puts it in his mouth.  She pulls it and then kicks at it.  Baby is experiencing Sabbath.  Along the way someone introduced us to time.  Play time.  Nap time.  School time.  Screen time.  Time to get up.  Time to go to school.  Time to do homework.  Play dates.  Time to leave for church.  Time to eat.  Time to go to bed.  By the time we are in elementary school we are regulated by time.  When we become adults, time “is of the essence.”  When we become parents, there isn’t “enough time.”  Only you can pull the plug on this obsession with TIME and begin to experience the Sabbath that is your gift from God.  It will take practice and perseverance on your part, but it will be worth it. 

Prayer thoughts:
Ask God to help you begin to experience the gift for you that he made and named Sabbath.

Lenten Devotional – March 9, 2023

Thursday, March 9, 2023
Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
Lenten Devotional by Georgie Bever

“Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun.
But you have to know how.”
The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss, copyright, 1957

I found this quote on page 152 of Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals.    As I read the quote, it all began to make sense.  It is “fun” to experience the Sabbath, but you have to know how.

Most people think they can just stop working, doing chores, getting things done, finishing their to-do list.  But it will be a lot harder than you think.  Even if you fill your Sabbath with going to the church service at 8 a.m., going to the adult seminar at 9 a.m. (or is it 9:30), and going to brunch with the family and some friends, you are still going to be home before 1 p.m. Then what? 

When I was a child, it was much easier to experience the Sabbath.  Almost everything was closed on Sunday.  The hospitals were open (of course).  You could go visit a sick or injured friend.  The clothing stores and shoe shops, sporting goods stores were closed.  The grocery stores were closed.  The gas stations were closed, with only a few exceptions near the highways.  The only thing on TV, if you had one, was church services and, in the evening, Ed Sullivan or 60 Minutes.  The bars and pool halls were closed until 5 or 6 p.m.  Liquor stores were closed.  Even the libraries were closed.  Experiencing the Sabbath was made easy by laws and public expectations. 

In Colorado Springs today it will take some forethought and determination to actually celebrate the Sabbath.  What should your Sabbath look like?  Remember, the Sabbath is for YOU to rest, relax, spend time with God and spend time showing his love to your family and neighbors. 

Should it be filled with a to-do list of chores you didn’t do on Saturday because you were too busy doing the weekly chores and not all of them got done?  No, it should NOT be filled with chores. What about your kids?  Should they do homework on Sunday?  The Bible even tells us that our slaves and the foreigners living among us should be allowed to rest on the Sabbath.  Exodus 23:12.

Prayer thoughts:
Spend time in conversation with God and Jesus talking about what they want your Sabbath to be like.

Lenten Devotional – March 8, 2023

Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Four Thousand Weeks – Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
Lenten Devotional by Georgie Bever

Let’s get the arithmetic over with first. 
4,000 weeks divided by 52 = 76.9 years.
80 years times 52 = 4,160 weeks
Current life expectancy in the United States is 79.11 years.
79.11 times 52 = 4,114 weeks
If you are 45 years old, you have lived 2,340 weeks.
4,114 weeks minus 2,340 weeks = 1,774 weeks

Now that we have that over with, we can focus on the Sabbath.  Every time the word “week” is used above, you could read “sabbath”.   By virtue of the title of the book, (. . .Time Management for Mortals), we are talking about managing our time on the Sabbath.  God gave us the Sabbath.  It is a gift from Him.  It is the gift of rest.  It is also a gift of time to show love not only to God but to our neighbors.

Some years ago, I taught Junior High Sunday School and led the youth group at a local church.  Every year, from November to May, two or three of the young men were absent from church on Sundays.   The first year I didn’t think anything of it until they returned in May.  When I welcomed them back, I asked them why we hadn’t seen them since November.  There answer was, “Oh, we play hockey, and we always have games on Sunday.”  I was not happy to hear this.  In my mind they were not obeying the rules of the Sabbath as I personally interpreted them.  Was I wrong? Maybe. 

Remember, God made the Sabbath as a gift to us.  A time to relax, spend time with family and friends, and to also spend time with Him.  I still have contact with those two “young men”, who are now in their 50s.  They have turned out to be good members of society and continue to be followers of Jesus. 

How are you going to spend your remaining Sabbaths?

Prayer thoughts:
Think about how you have spent your Sabbaths lately.   Does the Sabbath have to be on Sunday?  Have a conversation with Jesus about how he and his Father want you to spend time resting and regenerating every week.

Lenten Devotional – March 7, 2023

Tuesday, March 7, 2023
The Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas
Lenten Devotional by Cheryl Mahon

In the second chapter of The Deeply Formed Life, Villodas shares four practices of contemplative rhythms. One practice he teaches is sabbath keeping.

Although I usually get eight hours of sleep, I don’t always feel rested. Villodas states that keeping the sabbath results in deep rest and renewal. In our modern culture, we tend to not get enough sleep, we are bombarded with ceaseless information that we have no time to absorb or process, and we have little margin in our day to be with God. So, we suffer with fatigue of the body, fatigue of the mind, and fatigue of the soul.

I remember hearing “work hard, play hard” when I was growing up. I interpreted this as meaning you can play, or rest, after you’ve done your work. This led me to believe that sabbath is a reward for hard work. If there is still more work to do and I’m not yet exhausted, I don’t deserve a sabbath yet, right? Wrong! There is always more work to be done. Just like grace, you don’t earn favor for sabbath.

Villodas writes, “Sabbath is not just rest from making things. It’s rest from the need to make something of ourselves.” Why do we have this need to make something of ourselves? We need to recognize when Satan is slanting thoughts in our mind. We spend most of our lives trying to become something, to prove that we matter. This is exhausting and the beauty is we were made in God’s image!

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my  mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. – Psalm 139:13-14

I challenge you to set aside a twenty-four-hour period this week to keep the sabbath. It doesn’t have to be on Sunday. I work on Sundays, so that wouldn’t work for me and my family. Put down your technology. Spend time with God, family, and friends. If it constitutes work, let it go. Rest, play, and do things that bring you joy. Decide on when you’d like to start and set an alarm. When the alarm goes off, pretend that you are on the British baking show and put your hands up in the air. No, you can’t read that last email. Stop whatever you are doing and start your twenty-four-hour period of unhurried delight. As Villodas says, “The contemplative life is about slowing down our pace to create space for God to transform us by His grace.”

Lord, I know I have nothing to prove to you. I am fearfully and wonderfully made in your image. I know that spending time with you, resting with you, abiding in you will give me rest and strength for the work you need me to do. Help me to prioritize time with you each week for rest and renewal. Amen.

“Jesus said to her, give me a drink.” John 4:7  

Jesus has no bucket. Jesus can’t get the water from the well for himself and he is thirsty. So he asks the woman from Samaria for help. I just can’t get over the fact that our Lord and Savior asked for help. That our Lord and Savior was thirsty and needed assistance. What follows is a conversation where Jesus offers the woman something that she has no bucket for, eternal life. And isn’t that the truth of the exchange that happens between us and Jesus. We give him so little, a bucket for water, and he gives us so much-living water that springs up to eternal life. It’s not a trade. Jesus gives freely without request for payment. But it is an opportunity to serve with whatever we have. What bucket do you carry that you could offer to Jesus? 

Looking for last weeks worship? You can find it here!

-Pastor Travis Norton

Lenten Devotional – March 6, 2023

Monday, March 6, 2023
The Deeply Formed Life by Rich Villodas
Lenten Devotional by Cheryl Mahon

Rich Villodas is the Brooklyn-born lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, a large multiracial church in Queens. Rich graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in pastoral ministry and theology from Nyack College and completed his Master of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.

Paul said that we are not transformed from the outside in; we are transformed from the inside out. In his book, The Deeply Formed Life, Rich Villodas explores five values that we need to be deeply formed, to root us in the way of Jesus. I have written my Lenten devotions based on the first value he presents – contemplative rhythms for an exhausted life.

Villodas writes, “As long as we remain enslaved to a culture of speed, superficiality, and distraction, we will not be the people God longs for us to be.” On average, humans walk at a pace of three miles an hour. God has all the time in the world and He is never in a rush. I often encounter God when I take a leisurely three-mile and hour walk, especially when I am outside in nature. Villodas asks us to think about what it would be like to walk at God’s speed rather than society’s speed.

Was Jesus able to live the life he did as a human because of his constant time and energy being with the Father in prayer? Villodas writes of monastic life in the early centuries. Most of us realize that ordering our lives around rhythms of silence, solitude, and prayer would enrich our lives. The problem is, we don’t live in monasteries and this rhythm is difficult to maintain in a world that’s constantly asking us to prove ourselves.

Villodas says we need to regularly come back to a rhythm of communion and reflection at a life-giving pace. This is the only way we can offer our presence to the present moment. Theologian and poet Thomas Merton once wrote, “Solitude is to be preserved, not as a luxury but as a necessity: not for ‘perfection’ so much as for simple ‘survival’ in the life God has given you.” Villodas adds, “Contemplative rhythms enable us to leave the world in order to not only survive but thrive in it.”

Dear Heavenly Father, help me to slow down to your pace at least for a while today. Help me to leave the world, along with its enticements and false messages of assurance, and draw closer to you. Help me to open my ears to what You have to say. Amen.

Lenten Devotional – March 5, 2023

Sunday, March 5, 2023
The Razor’s Edge: The Sabbath as a Taste of Heaven
By Cris Waters

“How grand the sight was that was displayed before me as the day broke in its splendor. . . I was ravished with the beauty of the world. I’d never known such exaltation and such a transcendent joy.”

This passage may sound like something similar to my last devotion about God’s beautiful creation, but I chose it to represent something else in this case. At the time that Larry says this, he’s telling about his time in India. After spending time with many people learning the language, and studying philosophy, and even spending time in an ashram with a much sought-after teacher, Larry goes off on his own to a forestry shack that a friend has access to. He lives there very sparsely and does a lot of meditation until one morning, while watching the sun rise over a lake, he has this moment of joy and exaltation. This can be interpreted in several ways from the Hindu philosophy perspective, but I just want to think about it as a moment of closeness with God. A taste of Heaven.
As I was getting ready to write these devotions, I did some poking around the Internet looking for different ideas about the Sabbath (at the time still trying to see how this novel fit into the idea), and I came across an article on bibleproject.com that talked about how when we truly rest, we become places where God’s presence can dwell; we are practicing for eternity in His presence. And I think that’s what this moment is for Larry. It’s telling, I think, that soon after this he packs up his things and finally makes his way back to America, maybe not having all the answers to all his questions, but enough understanding to go back to “regular” life although Larry never does return to the life his friends and family wanted for him. He gives away his money and returns to America to be a trade worker, a mechanic or taxi driver, living small but happy.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11: 28-29
Larry did indeed find rest for his soul in God. The burdens of conventional life’s expectations; the world’s wanting of excess in everything, despite its shallow and unrewarding response; his questions about evil in the world. These all fade away when he takes that real rest, and he gets that taste of Heaven.

Heavenly Father, help me to create the Sabbath in my life. Take my burdens and give me rest. May I open my heart and create a dwelling place for you.

Lenten Devotional – March 4, 2023

Saturday, March 4, 2023
The Razor’s Edge: The True Intention of the Sabbath
By Cris Waters

“I wish I could make you see how exciting the life of the spirit is and how rich an experience. It’s illimitable. It’s such a happy life.” –Larry

In America, Larry is surrounded by people who think he is throwing his life away on an “adolescent indulgence.” His fiancé, Isabel, and her uncle, Elliot, who is a terrible ex-pat snob who only cares about moving amongst European society in the right circles (even to the point of believing that surely that means he’ll be among the best in Heaven as well), especially. Isabel says at one point, “Be a man, Larry, and do a man’s work. You’re just wasting the precious years that others are doing so much with.” Somehow, Larry knows she’s wrong, but he can’t convince her. However, most of the people Larry encounters on his travels are more supportive and understanding. He stops first in London and Paris to study from books, then he works in a coal mine in France with a man named Kosti, a Polish army officer, who encourages Larry to explore the spiritual side of things, rather than looking in books. He then spends time with a group of Benedictine monks, finally making his way to India. At each stop people are helping him learn the language, finding him lodgings, and encouraging him. What do they understand that the Americans did not?
Larry rejects the conventional life in search of meaningful experience. And in the end, he thrives and finds happiness and what he calls “freedom.” Those around him do not fare as well. They all suffer reversals in fortune. For Isabel it is losing her actual fortune. For Elliot, it is finding that on his death bed, all those high society figures he hosted and catered to over the years, none of them came to him. He was an extremely generous man, in spite of his snobbery, and yet it made no difference in the end. Only Larry, who has never cared what his clothes looked like, or how comfortable or fashionable his lodgings were, or who he knew and what gossip he’d heard, knew what would make him happy, make him comfortable, even if he was living off small wages doing manual labor. Unity with God, unity with creation, and unity with each other. The true intention of the Sabbath.

Dear Lord, show me the way. Show me how to be in unity with you and your creation. Teach me how to hold the Sabbath for you.

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