The Sabbath Proclaims the Gospel

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When most people think of Sabbath-keeping, their minds run to rules. They picture a list of activities to avoid.

This hardly does the Sabbath justice. The Sabbath was a key ingredient in God’s covenant, and keeping the Sabbath proclaimed wonderful news about God’s grace to his people.

The Sabbath as a Sign

God’s Sabbath command is rooted in creation and made plain on Mount Sinai, but the first extended discussion of the Sabbath is in Exodus 31.

After God gives his blueprints for the tabernacle, he tells Moses what to command Israel about the Sabbath (Ex 31:12–17). God doesn’t owe his people a reason for his laws, but that’s what we find here.

We learn that the Sabbath is a sign. Exodus 31 says the Sabbath is a sign in two ways, both of which are profound statements about the Lord.

First, the Sabbath points to God’s sanctifying work.

You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, `Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. (Ex. 31:13)

When the people keep the Sabbath, they are to remember God’s work to sanctify them. God alone is the one who sets apart, who makes holy, who calls the people his own.

The Sabbath also points to God’s work and rest during that first creation week.

It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. (Ex. 31:17)

We’ve read before that God rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2) and this reasoning also appears in the ten commandments (Ex. 20:11). But here we are also told that God was refreshed.

In what way was God refreshed on the seventh day? Was he tired? Was he feeling spent and overworked?

Of course not. God’s refreshment came from completion. He finished his work, rested, and was refreshed. (See Gen. 2:2.) There’s a special refreshment that comes after completing a project.

The Sabbath is Holy

The discussion in Exodus 31 makes one thing clear: the Sabbath speaks about God. The command is deadly serious because it involves the way the people understand and remember what God has done.

In particular, Israel must keep the Sabbath because it is holy. They do not make it holy by their observance; rather, they observe because the day is holy. God has make the day holy.

The Sabbath is a sign pointing to God’s work, not what the people need to do. In the same way, the Lord’s Day points to the finished work of God.

From the cross Jesus announced that his work was finished (John 19:30). His body rested in the grave on the Sabbath but burst forth on Sunday morning. Jesus’s resurrection was a verification, a jubilant trumpet call announcing the finished work of God to set apart people for himself.

The Refreshment of the Lord’s Day

Without getting into the thornier issues of modern Sabbath observance, there are a few things we can say with confidence.

The Lord’s Day points to God. While the fourth commandment certainly has implications for our behavior, the ground of the command is God’s work. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his atoning work for us by worshipping on the first day of the week. This very act of corporate worship points to God’s sanctifying work—setting aside his people and making us holy.

The work is finished. We rest because God rested. The day is holy because God made it holy. We rejoice because of the resurrection.

The command is not a burden. The command was obeyed and fulfilled perfectly by Jesus. As God’s children, we now have power to obey from the Spirit. The command to observe the Sabbath is not a burden, it is for our refreshment.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Heb 4:9–10)


Photo Credit: 童 彤 (2017), public domain

Ruin Your Family Vacation in Six Easy Steps

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Taking a vacation with your family can make your year. Especially when they are young, children look forward to these trips for months and have piles of memories afterward.

Because a vacation can be such a balm for a family, parents want everything to be perfect. But there are so, so many ways to fall short of perfect! Most of us are okay with imperfection, but we’d like to avoid disaster.

Partly out of my own experience, I offer six ways to ruin your family vacation. Though it may be too late for this summer, file these suggestions away for the future.

1. Ignore your children.

The kids will want to do childish things on vacation, like build sand castles, play in the water, and visit amusement parks. If you want to rest, you need a break from your kids. Let your spouse or parents handle the children as much as possible.

You might think you’re missing an opportunity to spend time with your kids. But you work so hard, right? Put your feet up and nap. You’ve earned it.

2. Be tight with time and money.

Your children will ask for LOTS of things on vacation. But stay strong; don’t go beyond the minimum. Money is tight and time is precious. Let this be your mantra.

Say no to the extra scoop of ice cream, the additional hour at the park, and the last ride on the carousel. Your budget and schedule are more important than these simple joys.

3. Be distracted.

Vacations offer a great chance to build relationships and engage in conversations. But that doesn’t sound very relaxing, does it? So make sure you’re not present.

Hang around in the background, but take your mind and attention elsewhere. Put your nose in a device and convince everyone that you’re busy with Important Things. (Acting annoyed can help, just ask George Costanza.)

4. Insist on your own way.

Let your family know the places and activities you enjoy, and push hard to prioritize all of them.

In the interest of fairness, you’ll probably have to go to some places you don’t love. As you get dragged along, make sure your mood is sufficiently sour to ruin the experience for everyone else. If you make your displeasure known (non-verbally, of course), then next time you’ll either be left out or the activity will be cut from the schedule. Either way, you win!

5. Don’t lift any burdens.

Though vacations present an opportunity to bless others, don’t go out of your way to do anything extra. You need your rest.

The person in your house who cooks, who does the laundry, who cares for the children most of the time? Let them carry on as usual, unless that happens to be you. In this case, insist on your right to a break. Enlist someone else to take up your slack (and try to ignore the hypocrisy).

6. Abandon all spiritual practices.

Vacation is about rest and fun. So, cast aside anything that feels like work, including your spiritual disciplines.

It’s easier to read a novel than the Bible, right? Who wants to pray as a family when you can watch TV instead?

By taking a break from your spiritual life, you tell your family (and especially your children) that there is no joy in following Christ, only duty. You also communicate that it’s okay to set aside your efforts to love and obey God whenever the mood strikes.

The Big Idea

There are lots of ways to ruin a family vacation; I’ve just picked the low-hanging fruit. The big idea is to make the vacation all about you. Don’t serve others, and don’t make any sacrifices.

If you follow these steps, you’ll not only ruin your vacation, but you’ll be well on your way to poisoning all of your family relationships.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2009), public domain

3 Questions for the New Year

Tear down your calendar and tack up the new one. The new year has arrived—you must have heard the shotguns at midnight.

It’s time for everyone and his hair gel-loving cousin to trumpet the importance of resolutions, new habits, and goals. Like pork and sauerkraut, it’s a dependable (if off-putting) tradition.

I’ll leave the goal-setting courses and motivational programs to the gurus. Instead I’m posing some hard questions to help frame the next 12 months. Take a look with me. Answer if you dare.

Where do you need to grow spiritually?

All Christians admit they’re forgiven sinners who continue to sin. So confession and repentance are regular features of our spiritual lives. But too often our confession is vague, and ambiguous confession leads to no repentance at all. Ongoing sin eats away at our souls, so we need to rustle the bushes and scare the specific sins into the open field. Be prepared, they’ll run.

Both the Bible and prayer are essential. We need to read the Bible to remember the features of our rebellion. God hates sin, and we would rather look away than feel his gentle finger pulling up that squeaky floor board.

We pray for God to spotlight the uprisings in our hearts. We need his intervention. Occasionally our sin is so blatant and offensive that it blinks in neon, but more often it slithers away into the dark alleys. We need to face our sin with the courage and confidence that comes from knowing we have been forgiven. Then when God brings the sin to our face, we must be merciless in putting it to death.

How well do you rest?

For some people, resting is difficult; it can feel unproductive and lazy. Of course, these are the people who most need to rest.

Most of us would feel dramatically better if we simply slept more. Track your sleep for a week and see what you learn. (I did this recently and found I slept far less than I would have guessed.)

Rest includes sleep, but it’s bigger. Under this umbrella you should include a weekly sabbath, a yearly vacation, and other stolen hours here and there throughout the months.

Rest requires planning and might look very different from person to person. What recharges you? What renews your physical, emotional, and mental energy? What are you doing to incorporate those activities into your life?

How can you stretch yourself for the kingdom of God this year?

Here I enter the realm of goal-setting, but with a twist. I’m not asking this question to encourage a bigger audience or bank account. As God leads and wills, we should want to have an impact for his kingdom this year. How can we best use our skills and talents and opportunities toward this end? What risks can we take to stretch ourselves?

First, let’s talk evangelism. Who has God put in your life so that you could share the gospel with them? Who can you invite to coffee? To dinner at your house? To church? How can you show God’s saving love to those around you?

What projects are out there for you? Outside of normal office and home activities, what ventures could you undertake to glorify God? These might be artistic or technical, collaborative or individual, public or private. Is there a way for you to tell a God-glorifying story in a medium where you have skill?

What questions are you asking yourself heading into the new year?

Four Keys to a Restful Break

(Note: I wrote most of this back in March, but I am just getting around to putting on the finishing touches now. Please forgive the anachronisms.)

Last week was Spring Break at the college where I teach. So, this means five full days of tanning, naps, and sipping exotic drinks, right?

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Not exactly. During the 2–3 weeks before any sort of mid-semester break, I tend to postpone non-essential tasks, thinking that I’ll have oodles of time to catch up over the break. As a result, my Spring Break to-do list is much longer than it should be.

But I’m on break, you see! In my mind this means that I deserve some time to rest. For me, that means extra reading, writing, movie-watching, and sleeping. But balancing these desires to refuel with a long to-do list is tricky. And if I don’t approach that balance with wisdom, I will arrive back to work on Monday just as tired and frustrated as before the break began.

As I have reflected on this tension, I have come to a few key strategies that make a big difference in the way that I intend to approach breaks in the future. I know that not everyone is on an academic calendar (What Spring Break?, you say), but these principles may be helpful for anyone taking time off of work for the dual purposes of rest and accomplishing tasks.

Four Keys to a Restful Break

  • Plan ahead of time — During the weeks before a break, be realistic about the amount of discretionary time you will have. Think about what will help you to recharge and rest—list those activities and a reasonable amount of time for each one. Don’t feel guilty about this list; rest is important, so don’t skimp on this.
    Part of planning ahead of time involves assessing those tasks you’ll need to complete too. Are there work-related leftovers that need your attention? Are there projects at home you’d like to complete? Try to map out the time you’ll need for these jobs, then add 50%. (Seriously—humans are notoriously bad at estimating the time needed to complete a task.)
  • Find a restful daily rhythm — Having a planned, comfortable pattern for each day will mark your break as different and special. Your rhythm may involve elements of your normal, working days, but be intentional about this. For me, a restful daily rhythm involves a full night’s sleep (no skimping on either end), morning devotional time, time for journaling, and regular exercise (4 times/week for me). These rhythms usually don’t affect my family too much, so it is easy for me to insist upon them.
  • Schedule time to work — You may want to plan all of your work time before your week of break, or you may want to do so on a day-to-day basis. But I’ve come to think that planning your work time is crucial. I used to think that I’d go through the week of break with some rest, some work, and that the balance would sort itself out. No way. I came out the other end of those breaks with work-related and rest-related regrets. Schedule your work time, and work hard!
  • Schedule time to rest — This is just as important as the previous point. You may find that you’d like to devote entire days to work and entire days to rest. Other people might function better with a morning/afternoon work/rest split. But during the time you’ve set apart to rest, do it with all your might.

Looking back at this list, you might notice that it is influenced a lot by Sabbath principles. (You are taking some sort of Sabbath, right?)

I’d love to hear how you secure rest when taking a break from work. What are some practices that have been helpful for you?


Photo by Juli, Creative Commons License