On Sabbath

 

I recently read ‘The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath’ by Mark Buchanan. I underlined so many passages in my Kindle, then copied out some of the most thought-provoking in my journal and now I’m typing a few up again here on the blog. Third times a charm, or something – certainly I need to remember these words over and over again as I seek some more Sabbath in my  week.

So here they are – all words by Mark Buchanan:

“In a culture where busyness is a fetish and stillness is laziness, rest is sloth. But without rest, we miss the rest of God: the rest he invites us to enter more fully so that we might know him more deeply. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Some knowing is never pursued, only received. And for that you need to be still.”

“Sabbath imparts the rest of God – actual physical, mental, spiritual rest, but also the rest of God – the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.”

“The root idea of Sabbath is simple as rain falling, basic as breathing. It’s that all living things – and many unliving things too – thrive only by an ample measure of stillness.”

“Sabbath-keeping requires two orientatons. One is Godward. The other is timeward. To keep Sabbath well – as both a day and an attitude – we have to think clearly about God and freshly about time. We likely, at some level, need to change our minds about both. Unless we trust God’s sovereignty, we won’t dare risk Sabbath. And unless we receive time as abundance and gift, not ration and burden, we’ll never develop a capacity to savour Sabbath.”

“Exodus grounds Sabbath in creation. Deuteronomy grounds it in liberation. Exodus remembers Eden, Deuteronomy Egypt. In Exodus, Sabbath-keeping is about imitating divine example and receiving divine blessing. In Deuteronomy, it is about taking hold of divine deliverance and observing divine command.

Exodus looks up. Deuteronomy looks back. Exodus gives theological rationale for rest, and Deuteronomy historical justification for it. One evokes God’s character, the other his redemption. One calls us to holy mimicry – be like God; the other to holy defiance – never be slaves again. One reminds us that we are God’s children, the work of his hands, the other that we are no one’s chattel; not Pharaoh’s, not Nebuchadnezzar’s, not Xerxes’, not Beelzebub’s.

One is invitation. The other is warning.”

“Slaves don’t rest. Slaves can’t rest. Slaves, by definition, have no freedom to rest. Rest, it turns out, is a condition of liberty.”

“Get this straight: The rest of God – the rest God gladly gives so that we might discover that part of God we’re missing – is not reward for finishing. It’s not a bonus for work well done. It’s sheer gift. It’s a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. Sabbath is not the break we’re allotted at the tail end of completing all our tasks and chores, the fulfilment of our obligations. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of them, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.”

On refugees

I recently wrote a piece on refugees for a group of Christian women who are part of an online devotional group. The usual author had asked if I might like to pen something given the current global discussions on refugees, and while it took me a bit to get my thoughts together, once I did they just came tumbling out.

I want to share a (slightly edited) version here because this is one of the big global issues of our time and because writing a blog post is one tiny little advocacy action I can take to support those who have often lost everything as they’ve been forced to flee their homes.

So here it is…


For those of you who don’t know me personally, the plight of the refugee is one of my “big causes”.

I’ve volunteered with refugees overseas, I’ve worked with refugees in Australia and these days I work for a refugee organisation in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s an office job that involves too much time behind a computer, but it’s an amazing opportunity for me to serve a people group I care about a lot.

I’ve been mulling and praying and reflecting about what to write here – there are a hundred things swirling around my mind.

I believe the heart of God is wholly for the refugee, and considering who I am writing to, chances are many of you believe something similar. Either way, for a fantastic read on what the Bible says, let me send you to a piece by my friend Sarah Starrenburg: https://medium.com/@sarahstarrenburg/strangers-in-a-strange-land-refugees-and-the-bible-6f23eff59bd7#.9cyk4ay1y

I could pull out some numbers – that today there are 65.3 million forcibly displaced people, the highest number of people forced to flee their homes since the Second World War. I could get political and unpack the latest policy decisions in the United States – a country where, actually, I neither live nor vote. I could get technical on refugee law and explain how resettlement is an option for just the tiniest minority – and how many refugees just want peace and safety and the ability to go back to the country they call home.

Instead, let me tell you a story…

It’s a week night sometime in 2008 and I’m sitting in a dimly-lit dining room sharing a meal with a Sudanese man and his family. As we twist spaghetti around our forks, this man tells me a harrowing story of escaping extreme persecution in Sudan. Of walking on foot for days. Of capture and torture. Of being thrown into a hole like a corpse and being left to die.

At one point he lifts his shirt to show us scars across his back where he was beaten. I lose my appetite.

Our discussion is not taking place in Sudan, or in Kenya where this family eventually escaped to, or in Egypt where they spent years waiting to be processed. We’re sharing a meal together in a small suburban home in Brisbane, Australia.

About twelve months earlier, a friend and I signed up to a local community program and were matched with a newly arrived refugee family. Our task? To spend an hour a week with the family to introduce them to Australian culture, help with English studies and supervise homework.

My favourite evening was one night when we discussed the emergency services in Australia. For many refugees, their experience in their home country has taught them that men in official uniform are not to be trusted, so it’s a topic that the program stressed we should cover.

We asked the children if they knew what 000 meant (the Australian equivalent of 911), if they’d ever called it in an emergency. “Oh yes!” they exclaimed enthusiastically, recounting a long and convoluted story about an intruder in the home. After a few animated minutes and lots of questions from our side, we discovered the intruder our little African-Australians so feared was actually a possum that had climbed through the back window. The friendly Aussie policeman was more than happy to help them get it out.

Much of the discussion around refugees in the media, in politics, perhaps even around the family dinner table, is shaped by a narrative of fear. Despite the fact the US resettlement programme already involves an incredibly stringent vetting process that can take years, recent decisions in the US stir up that fear. Discussions in Australia over ‘illegal boat people’ plays up that fear.

Fear of those who look different to us, who sound different to us, who believe different to us.

Fear of the ‘Other’.

Here’s what I know. It’s hard to fear the ‘Other’ when you share a meal with them. When you colour in a Disney Princess colouring book with their daughter, and play soccer with their son. When you meet their brand new baby girl just days out of the hospital.

When you see Jesus in them.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

– Matthew 25:35-36

The plight of the refugee may not be your “big cause” – the one that deserves the majority of your time, your energy, your career or finances. My hope is that you’re aware of what your “big cause” is (or causes!) and you are using your God-given gifts in those areas, that your Christian faith is more than knowledge and good ideas, but overflowing into love-in-action.

But the refugee doesn’t need to be your ‘big cause’ to deserve your welcome, your advocacy, your prayers and petitions. Your voice, your heart, your spare $20 – they are all needed in times like these.

Think global, act local’ is not in Scripture, but ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is. In today’s hyper-connected, globalised world, my prayer is that we as the Church would be known for loving our neighbour across the road and loving our neighbour across the ocean, and taking every opportunity to invite in the stranger and turn them into our neighbour, too.


If you want to do something tangible to love ‘the stranger’, here are three options you may consider. There are many, many wonderful people and organisations serving refugees in various locations around the world, but these are three specific causes close to my heart:

  1. Donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre‘s Emergency Appeal, to help provide legal support to asylum seekers in Australia who have waited for years to be able to apply for asylum, and now have to fill in a complex legal form in English in a very short timeframe.
  2. Donate to the South Sudan emergency, the third-largest refugee crisis after Syria and Afghanistan, to raise much-needed funding for over 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees who have fled the country in the last three years. Thousands of people are still crossing the borders every day, and the situation inside South Sudan is getting worse, with famine recently declared in parts of the country.
  3. For readers in Brisbane, join VoRTCS/St Vinnies and give an hour a week to support a refugee family with English skills, homework support and the knowledge of how to deal with a possum intruder 😉

 

a quiet faith

After reading Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking‘, I’ve been fascinated with introversion and extroversion and how our personalities affect each and every aspect of our lives. Cain examines the way in which extroversion became the cultural ideal in the United States, to the point where certain traits common to introversion are now viewed as defects to be minimalised or challenges to be overcome. Her book is a well-researched, articulate and engaging discussion of why introversion is not a defect, but a strength to be harnessed by the quieter ones amongst us.

I’ve always classified myself as an introvert… and yet secretly wished I was more extroverted! So much of what my culture holds up as the ideal – in the workplace, in school and university, in the social setting, even in church – tends towards extroverted traits.

My perception of my apparent shortcomings shifted a little when I heard the Myers Briggs definition of introversion and extroversion, which focuses more on how a person is energised. An introvert gets energy from their inner world of ideas and images, while an extrovert is energised by the outer world of people and things.

I think it shifted a little more when I realised just how many people I admire – both historically, and among my own social circles – were introverts. And as I’ve got older and become a whole lot more comfortable with just being me – as cool or uncool as that might be – I’ve become even more accepting of the ‘introvert’ label.

There’s one point that Cain raised in Quiet that really got me thinking. She identified the way in which the extroverted ideal had influenced modern day religion, particularly in the American evangelical church. Her observations struck a chord, and I’ve been reflecting ever since on my own faith and experience of church.

My reflections are really just a bunch of questions I’ve been pondering: Was/is Jesus an extrovert or an introvert? How does an introvert best love God – and how will that look different from a more extroverted believer? Is extroversion really idealised in the modern-day church? If so, what are we missing out on… and is there another way?

And… is it okay to be a ‘quiet Christian’?

I’ve been thinking back through my journey of faith in light of my questions. It’s an interesting lens to use to reflect on past experiences! Funnily enough, a lot of things began to make more sense.

Like, how my most treasured experiences of church have tended to happen in a home group / connect group setting. We often categorise extroverts as ‘people persons’, which always confused me because I’m an introvert but I also really like people. But introverts tend to crave deeper conversation, which rarely happen on a Sunday morning, and prefer small group settings to engage – hence why I feel a whole lot more comfortable at a mid-week evening home group, to sitting amongst a congregation of hundreds on the weekend.

Looking at my faith as an introvert, I realised why really loud music sometimes distracted me from God more than drew me to Him – introverts are more easily overstimulated by noise, smell, taste, even caffeine – which also finally explains why coffee always makes me shake!

I realised why I enjoyed sharing a message at youth or young adults – reflecting and discussing ideas is a sweet spot for the introverted – while the thought of meeting leading or giving announcements made me so nervous. Introverts aren’t so inclined to small talk and what not, so the thought of being funny and engaging while announcing various events always made me sweat.

I realised how even the way I sin – how I hurt God and those around me – is perhaps shaped by my introverted nature. I’m dreadful at stewing away on issues and holding grudges and judging others – getting all stuck up in my head over an issue or person I need to forgive or ask forgiveness from.

And I realised why I was so excited when my rather Pentecostal, contemporary, always-loud-and-energetic church invested in creating a space for silent reflection and prayer by building a prayer chapel on site, complete with soft music, muted colours and a pretty stain glassed window.

I wonder if the supposed ‘rise of the extroverted ideal’ may be correlated to the increasing popularity of more contemporary churches, with their rock band style worship, snappy video clips and engaging, charismatic preachers. I wonder if the way we express our faith has shifted from more introverted practices – like silent reflection and contemplation – to meet the demands of the extroverted ideal, where ‘fast-paced’, ‘high energy’ and ‘loud’ are the new values of the day.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I grew up in a typical contemporary, Pentecostal church, with a pretty cool band and poppy media. I appreciate that kind of church and I’ve seen the impact it can have on community. But I also believe in balance, because not everyone is a extrovert – as much as we may all try to act like we are *wink*

I wonder how I can better love God, as the introvert He made me to be.

I think I need some more intentionality in my schedule. I know I need a lot of margin in my life – a lot of down time to recharge, to reenergise, to relax. I need to carve out more alone time with God, because for anyone, but especially an introvert, a Sunday morning experience with a hundred others in a room will not build the kind of connection I want and need with God. The battle we fight is not against flesh and blood, but against busy schedules and crazy work hours and our own inability to say no to everything else that will demand our time and attention.

I think I need a solid commitment to my home group community. The structure, the regularity, the purpose, the same group of people week in, week out – I lap it up as an introvert. But since it’s also not all about me, I know that being part of a small group and creating that safe space for deeper conversation is an opportunity to serve the other introverts in my community. We all need connection and community, and by showing up and contributing each week, I can contribute to something special.

And maybe when I’m next at a huge worship concert, I think perhaps I need a pair of ear plugs – to enhance, not hinder, my experience with God.

How can I embrace a ‘quiet Christianity’ that is true to the gospel, true to Jesus, and true to who God made me be?

I continue to ponder… which is rather introverted of me, indeed!

two and a half years

May 19 marks our ‘half anniversary’ – so it’s now been two and a half marvelous years of marriage. Happy half anniversary baby!!

I was reading Colossians 3:12-17 recently. We picked it to be read at our wedding ceremony by our lovely friend Jess. Rereading it once more reminded me that it doesn’t matter what gown I chose for our wedding day, or what outfit I put on for a nice date – it’s all about wearing love, all the time.

Colossians 3:12-17 – The Message

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

the romans 8 project

Last year I was encouraged (by Ann Voskamp, in this blog post) to memorise some powerful words that mean so much to me. That define and strengthen my faith, that challenge my fear, that remind me of the power of love.

I was ambitious, and started strong, and soon I had 13 verses I could whisper from memory. 13 powerful verses that are still anchored deep in my memory.

But 13 is not 39, and I wanted all 39 verses of Romans 8 to be written on my heart. But then it got hard, and I got busy, and like always, the important things somehow fall by the wayside.

And now, so many months later, I’m flicking through bad day time TV and patting the dog and I’m struck with a sudden and overwhelming feeling like I’m not doing anything important. And oh how I like to feel important! My world is a little smaller and a lot quieter than normal. I’ve been working here and there, taking classes here and there, but life is a little in limbo as we consider careers and cities, countries and continents.

So here’s what I need to do. I need to go back to the start, and I need to take it slow. I’m committing to two verses a week, and the months will go by, and whether I’m busy or bored, flat out or fancy free, I’ll be doing the most important thing – committing God’s Word to heart.

Because, as Ann says, “When you memorise Scripture, it’s like carrying your own oxygen tank.”

I haven’t carried that kind of oxygen in a long time. My Bible is so accessible, on my Kindle, on my phone, that the practice of meditating and committing words to heart is almost unknown to me. But I know I need it.

Never — NOT ONCE — have I ever known anyone to get to the end of a Scripture memory commitment and say that it didn’t make any real difference. Not a single time.

– Beth Moore

I’m using this as a little bit of public accountability for myself, but if you are interested in doing your own memorisation project, A Holy Experience (Ann’s blog) has resources for Matthew 5, 6 and 7, and Romans 1, 8 and 12 and all of Colossians.

Because maybe you need some oxygen too.