Friday, June 25, 2010

Toyota + Rap + Humor = Phat

If you have not yet seen the “Swagger Wagon” music video (an excellent and hilarious piece of hip-hop marketing), check it out!



If you like the song, you can download a free mp3 here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A “Sabbath Testimony”—by Shannon Stewart

Sabbath Study, Part 40

When Cap started studying the Sabbath during the summer we got married, I dreaded the result. Like most Christians I knew, I “kept the Sabbath” by going to church on Sunday mornings and then used Sunday afternoons to finish homework, do last-minute chores, or just chill out with a movie before the week began. When Cap’s study led him to believe that keeping the Sabbath involved a bit more than obligatory church attendance, I wasn’t thrilled. To be quite honest, I didn’t want to think about God all day long. That would be boring.

At the time, I was halfway done with my Master’s Degree in English Literature, a task that required more work than I could give. Despite constant labor, I still went to bed every night with many assignments unfinished. Days upon days of often unrewarding work, with no end in sight, made me exhausted, stressed to the point of physical ailment, and regularly depressed. I spent Sunday afternoons frantically catching up on homework, though these afternoons were usually when I suffered most from exhaustion.

Cap did lead me to keep the Sabbath that summer, and when he did, he was also leading me to a closer relationship with God and with him. I found that I suddenly had time for spiritual work that I usually put off during the week: reading books about God, having long quiet times, thinking about sins and spiritual questions that I usually gave myself no time to consider during my busy weekdays. I enjoyed spending hours at a time talking with Cap about God during walks or snuggled up on the couch, with no distracting errands or chores on my mind to make me want to rush through the conversation. I came to enjoy and guard our restful Sundays together. I realized that, like all God’s other commandments, the Sabbath was a liberating blessing, not a gloomy restriction.

When fall semester rolled around again, I was actually sad to see my Sabbaths go. But I knew—or thought I knew—that taking an entire day off of grad school every week was crazy. I suppose that since I had never kept the Sabbath before, I felt more comfortable taking time off from the fourth commandment than from “Thou shalt not lie” or any of the others.

Three weeks into the semester, I was already a basket case, crying hysterically almost every night and remaining depressed for days at a time. Even though I was working all day, every day, I still couldn’t finish everything required of me, and I was despairing. Realizing that rest—real rest—was necessary for my sanity, I agreed with Cap that I should give the Sabbath a trial run in the midst of the busy semester. I had finally come to the point where I saw that, in my own strength, I could not finish everything. But these two verses made promises to people like me: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for He gives to His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2); “O LORD, you will ordain peace for us; you have done for us all our works” (Isaiah 26:12). It was not in my power to complete grad school successfully or sanely. But it was in God’s power, and God told me to keep the Sabbath—and that He could easily take care of the rest.

The Sunday we picked to start Sabbath-keeping again was, ironically, the Sunday before what looked to be one of the most challenging weeks of my grad school career. Instead, that week was one of the most joyful weeks I had ever had there. When unexpected problems popped up, I found that trusting God with my time by keeping the Sabbath put me in a posture of trust for other trials, too, and I was able to meet them joyfully and flexibly. I finished all the homework for that week, and it felt like a refreshing miracle rather than a thankless labor. And when I didn’t finish assignments, I found that my world didn’t end.

The Sabbath is not some magic ritual that suddenly made my schedule go right. But it certainly is a tool to help my heart get right. Much that I consistently struggled with—keeping priorities straight, trusting God with my work and schedule, not being a slave to schoolwork, fostering affection for Cap in the midst of a stressful life—are what the Sabbath helps grow in me. The Sabbath is also a statement to my doubting heart of God’s reality. Every week as God proves faithful to provide for us and help us with our work, the proof builds.

The Lord’s Day should be our favorite day of the week, but it was a day I dreaded because of all the last-minute catching up I had to do on Sunday afternoons. Now I can honestly say it is my favorite day, a day I look forward to every week. I gladly give up television and chores on one afternoon for this blessing and this spiritual benefit.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Conclusion: Sabbath Principles and Practices (Cont.)

Sabbath Study, Part 39

The first half of our conclusion to this Sabbath study (see the previous post) detailed the first three “Sabbath principles.” Here are the final four.

Fourth, the weekly Sabbath has changed from Saturday to Sunday. Within the realm of orthodox Christianity, this is almost universally acknowledged. Christ’s death and resurrection inaugurated a new era of Sabbath application. There are some who argue that the Christian Sabbath is on Saturday. I have not found these arguments to be convincing—or, in the long run, Scripturally credible.

Fifth, the weekly rest should, in at least a general sense, look different from the other six days of the week. We do ourselves a disservice to call Sunday a day of rest while treating it like any other day. In a more specific sense, the weekly rest should involve both corporate and private worship; it is a “holy convocation” (i.e., a large, formal assembly), as well as something to be observed “in all your dwellings” (see Lev. 23:3).

Sixth, it takes work to enjoy a weekly rest. Hebrews 4:11 (KJV) says, “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest.” As paradoxical as it may sound, true soul-rest takes work. Obedience to any of God’s commands is an act of faith, and faith is far from a cakewalk. It is, in fact, a fight (1 Tim. 6:12). The remnants of our sinful nature will battle us every step of the way, and we will need to fight back in order to slow down enough to truly enjoy a rest from our weekly toils. Part of this fight of faith involves what we discussed in the first principle: viewing a Sabbath rest as truly beneficial. Another part of this fight involves a sufficient preparation on the evening beforehand (i.e., not always staying up late on Saturday night). If we prepare our minds and our hearts for the coming Sabbath, we can glean more benefit from it.

Seventh, the weekly rest is designed to point New Testament believers to the eternal rest we will enjoy with God in Heaven. Charles Spurgeon said, “To be with God is to rest in the most emphatic sense.” (Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith, 332). Whatever would help us grow in having an eternal perspective would be a worthy Sunday pursuit. After all, if we want to prepare to be with God for all eternity, why not start by learning to rest in Him now?

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In the next (and last) entry in this blog series, my wife will share her personal “Sabbath testimony,” which I think will aid us in applying the Fourth Commandment to our own lives.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Conclusion: Sabbath Principles and Practices

Sabbath Study, Part 38

For the last several months, we have studied the doctrine of the Sabbath (i.e., what the entirety of the Bible has to say about the Fourth Commandment). During this time, I have attempted to explain why I think the weekly rest is far from an outdated command—and why it is a source of abundant grace and soul-satisfying pleasure. Properly viewed and obeyed, the Fourth Commandment can greatly benefit the Christian’s life.

So what about application? What exactly does a Sabbath rest look like? What are we allowed and/or forbidden to do during this day? Christian authorities have not been in complete agreement over the answer to these questions, and I won’t pretend to have unlocked all the secrets to a proper application of the Fourth Commandment.

I think it is best to answer the above questions with a short list of principles rather than a list of specific steps. Application points can be debated, but I think the Biblical principles are more clear-cut…and they can lead each of us to a God-honoring, soul-satisfying application, even if that application slightly differs from person to person. The following are the first three of seven guiding principles for enjoying a Sabbath rest. (The last four will be given in the next post.)

First, the weekly rest was designed for our good. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, we are prone to ignore the “unblushing promises” of God and the infinite joy He offers us because we are so familiar with “making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea.” Similarly, I think we are prone to view the Sabbath rest as a legalistic inconvenience because we do not understand its blessings (which are explained in especially poignant language in the Isaiah passages we looked at earlier). The study of God’s Word and the refreshment of the soul are far from inconveniences: they are life. The solution is to change our views of what is truly restful and beneficial. Far from being a burdensome prescription, the Christian Sabbath is a refreshing provision.

Second, the weekly day of rest is more than a mere suggestion. It is a command from God Himself. His glory and our good are at stake. At the same time, observing a day of rest cannot and will not add anything to our right standing with God. Adhering to the law never makes a person more justified in God’s sight. We are accepted by God because of Christ alone. No amount of rule keeping can add to our right standing with our heavenly Father. A Christian who doesn’t observe a day of rest is no less justified than a person who does.

By saying this, I am not treating the Fourth Commandment as inconsequential. Far from it. (After all, I’ve spent the last seven months arguing to the contrary.) The Fourth Commandment is incredibly important. It is not, however, a means of justification. If we obey any of God’s commands with the intent of impressing Him or adding to our worth or making us acceptable in His sight, our law keeping is nothing more than skin-deep righteousness—or, as Isaiah calls it, “filthy rags” (see Isa. 64:6). The only reason we have hope to be accepted by God is because Jesus Christ, the only perfect Sabbath-keeper, suffered in the place of all of us who scorned His law (including the Fourth Commandment).

Third, the weekly rest is not a rule to keep in and of itself; it is a means by which we can know God more intimately. Like any other directive, the Fourth Commandment reveals to us aspects of the nature of God—who He is, what He is like, what His purposes and intentions for the world are. Through the Sabbath, we see God’s provision for us more clearly: in His goodness, He calls us to rest in His sufficiency, knowing that we could never achieve salvation—and, to a lesser extent, we could never achieve all we intend to do each week. (In other words, the Sabbath provides a unique weekly opportunity to preach the gospel to ourselves.) Our Savior supplies us with abundant grace and promises both to finish what He starts and to provide for us with His sufficiency. To remind ourselves of these truths on a weekly basis is to revel in the nature of God.

In the next post, we will look at the last four principles.