Pastoral ministry is hard work. How would you like a resource that could lighten your workload and help teach your church the importance of Sabbath. Well, look no further than the Sabbath Box. Imagine having one week out of every month, where much of the work of ministry planning has already been done for you. On the first Sunday of every month, each new issue of Sabbath Box presents you with sermon, music, and Bible study content, ready for you to use with your church or ministry! Sign up now, and try a free month, risk-free! Sign up by clicking the logo!
by A.J. Swoboda (Blessed Earth Pacific Northwest Director)
Nearly 10 years ago, as a college pastor at the University of Oregon, I toiled nearly 80 hours a week doing the “work of the Lord.” No boundaries. No rhythms. No intention. No rest. Every crisis was my crisis. Every complaint was my problem. Everything and everyone came to me. The long and short of it. I began to burn out. And I knew there was a problem when I started hoping I would burn out. Burnout offered a way out of all the insanity. Though I had never thought it possible, I was, in Paul’s words, beginning to “weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:9). The cost was high. I constantly got sick, my marriage was struggling, and my ministry became misery as I went frantically from crisis to crisis.
by Matthew J. Sleeth
by Matthew Sleeth
We live in a culture of fear. In fact, fear is a hot commodity. It sells.
The folks who have the most to gain from fear just happen to be the ones who market it. This may be individuals, but often it’s the media.
Nancy and I don’t have television at home, but I have no control over TVs in public places. There is no escaping them. Whether I want to or not, I’m forced to watch the news in airports and restaurants. And of course there’s plenty of news online. The threat level is always orange or red. Every hour of every day we hear up-to-the-minute news of mass shootings, scandal, stolen identities, impending nuclear threats, and a world in turmoil.
Fear is not all bad. It keeps us from going too near the edge of the cliff. It can lead to an appropriate amount of caution. It lets us know when to act and when to flee.
But living in constant fear is crippling to the human spirit. Fear feeds on itself, and it’s always hungry for more. Fear makes us uncomfortable, and for the most part, people like to avoid uncomfortable stimuli.
For many, escape is the answer. We run to diversions, including entertainment, food, drugs, and alcohol. We escape our lives by living someone else’s in the popular world of reality TV.
There is also an economic link between escape and fear. Many of the entities that market fear are in the entertainment business. This is known as creating your own market and demand. Politicians market fear as well. Mussolini, Hitler, and tyrants throughout history have banked on fear for their own benefit. They create a climate of fear and then present the means of escape: themselves.
You don’t have to read far into the Bible to come across a society based on fear. The book of Exodus documents a Pharaoh’s paranoid imaginings about an uprising of slaves, a war that might happen, and a reaction that could occur. I’m sure that the media back then endlessly hashed and rehashed the possibilities. Coifed, attractive journalists interviewed the former commander of the Pharaoh’s chariots while maps overlaid with possible invading armies flashed on the screen.
The problem with a culture of fear is that people grow used to the fear; as a result, those who are in the fear business must continually up the ante. As the scripture says, “And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.” (Ex 1:12 ESV)
So the Pharaoh upped the ante and said, “let’s kill the most helpless of all–the newborn babies.” Then one of the most beautiful things in the Bible takes place. Two courageous women dealt with fear in the way God wants all of us to. Their names were Beautiful and Splendid, or Shiprah and Puah in Hebrew.
How did these midwives act when confronted with a culture of fear? They lied to the Pharaoh to protect the babies. And you probably remember that “the Lord dealt well” with these two women. But what we may forget is how these women escaped the culture of fear. “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” (Gen 1:17 ESV).
The key: they feared God. Satan wants us to fear everything on earth–except God.
In Matthew 10 we find a record of Jesus sending his disciples out on their first mission. They had been with the Master up until that point, and it must have felt overwhelming for them to step out on their own. Jesus instructed these followers to find a worthy house, give greetings, and let their peace descend on the home (Matthew 10:13).
The implication is that disciples should have a peace that others do not. How? We must fear God, and nothing else.
Jesus warned them–and us–that life will not be easy. There will be persecutions and accusations. There will be wars and rumors of wars. We cannot expect a stress-free life when we follow Jesus.
Our Lord went on to explain that we should not fear men. Others can destroy our body, but ultimately only God has the power of granting eternal life or death (Matthew 10:28). Our souls rest in God’s hands alone. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). When we fear the Lord, all other fears shrink in size and become much more manageable.
Fear God alone, and you’ll find yourself with the courage to take down giants. I promise. But more importantly, God promises. This is God’s Word. And we believe it.
by Nancy Sleeth, Managing Director of Blessed Earth
For a long time, a visit to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest has been near the top of Matthew’s bucket list. Named after the WWI veteran who wrote the beloved poem “Trees,” it is one of the largest contiguous tracts of old growth forest in the Eastern United States. It encompasses trees that are over 400 years old and 20 feet in circumference standing 100 feet tall.
So, when I saw that we had a free afternoon during a three-day trip last month, I asked some friends if they’d like to join us for a hike. The forest was about 90 minutes from where we were staying. From the moment we got on the Foothills Parkway, every vista was an affirmation of God’s goodness–mountain overlooks, leaves just beginning to acknowledge the coming change in seasons, and streams interrupted by lively waterfalls.
It was midafternoon by the time we arrived. The four of us chatted while navigating the first half of the hike, pointing out especially large tree specimens to each other and marveling over the girth of the trees. It felt like we were exploring an outdoor cathedral. Walking in the presence of God’s oldest creatures made us feel both small and large at the same time–our lifespan fleeting, our responsibilities as God’s appointed caretakers great.
As soon as we ascended the second half of the figure-eight trail, other hikers became far fewer. We spotted two fallen trees and decided to rest. Our friend suggested that we begin in prayer and then sit in silence for five minutes. As we closed our eyes and listened, the wind picked up. For the first time in my life, I heard a wind approaching. Stronger and stronger, it gathered over the valley and ascended the mountainside. The leaves began ringing, almost like wind chimes. Our five minutes of silent contemplation stretched into ten, then fifteen. No one wanted it to end. The wind died down, and we opened our eyes. We had a long drive back, and a dinner meeting scheduled, so we headed back to the car, our ears still ringing with echoes of our sacred silence.
Over the course of the three-day conference, our friend Boyd Bailey, head of the National Christian Foundation in Georgia, led the morning devotions. Providentially, the topic he chose was silence. Boyd believes that silence is the language of God, and God expects us to be fluent in His language. While no one pats us on the back for being skilled in silence, learning to sit with the Lord in quiet grows our inner strength, sensitivity to the Spirit, and Kingdom perspective invaluably.
After Jesus fed the 5,000, he dismissed all but the twelve and then went to be silent with his Father. As many of us have learned the hard way, BUSY stands for Being Under Satan’s Yoke. Either we manage to have quiet in our lives, or the noise will manage us.
Our fifteen minutes of quiet in the Joyce Kilmer Forest reminds me of Psalm 1. God wants us to be like a tree, with deep roots that reach out for water and hold us firm. No matter what hurricanes or wildfires or floods come our way, we will stand fast in the Lord.
On July 31, I made a decision: For the coming month, I would Sabbath from checking the news.
About a year ago, when the elections were heating up, I fell into the habit of checking three news sources each morning. One of the sources was on the conservative end of the spectrum, one liberal, and one moderate. It was interesting to me to see how the same event could be interpreted through such vastly different lenses.
As the race grew closer and closer, I began checking the headlines twice each day. Every time I thought the news was as crazy as it could get, it grew even more absurd. I told myself–and my husband–that this relatively new obsession was not affecting my emotional or spiritual life, but of course it was. How could such an influx of pessimism and hostility not darken my soul?
When I found myself checking the headlines not once, not twice, but three times a day, I knew I had crossed a line. Enough was enough! I asked for God’s help. Then I embarked on an August experiment.
Even without the angst of 24/7 news, August is usually a hard month for me. Twenty-two years ago, my brother drowned on August 19 in front of our kids. Nearly two decades later, my mom also died on August 19. August is also the month my daughter and mother shared the same birthday, so the entire month is filled with bittersweet memories.
For more than a decade, my family and I have abstained from news on our Sabbaths. It’s one of the many ways our Sabbath is made kadosh (holy), literally set apart. This weekly oasis from headlines always has a calming effect. Imagine what a month without getting swept up in the whirlwind of news could do for my soul?
It turns out, the experiment proved easier than I expected. And better. I assumed I would be tempted to take a peek. Who, besides God and Google, would know?
But I didn’t look (though occasionally I would ask Matthew if the world was still there….) The rewards were tangible and immediate. I have slept better, felt more rested, and worried less about things I have no control over this month than I have in a year.
On September 1, my news sabbatical officially ends. What have I learned? Sufficient unto today are today’s worries. Or, to paraphrase Matthew 6:34, don’t angst about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own trouble.
My sabbatical from daily news reminded me that the only lens that really matters is the Gospel. Jesus gave us the answer to today’s headlines and the angst they stir up in Matthew 6:33: Seek FIRST the King of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
Dr. Guy Brewer, Director, North Carolina Sabbath Living Initiative
(Guy offers this reflection on the Sabbath Living retreat held on Memorial Day weekend for pastors and clergy of AME Zion Beaufort District and UMC Sound District in North Carolina.)
“Everybody in church was your momma. It didn’t matter where you sat or who you were with. Those church ladies were all in cahoots! They had their eye on you and they would bless you out at the drop of a hat. If need be, they could give you that secret pew pinch, too, if you know what I mean. Dear Lord, I grew up with so many mommas!”
That is how an AME Zion pastor described her memories of Sabbath from childhood. This recollection illustrates what it means to be a Sabbath community. In a Sabbath community, everybody is your momma; people take the term “church family” seriously. In such a community, folks’ lives are closely bound together. They love each other deeply, know each other well, and look out for each other as a mother cares for her own children.
Our experience at the Sabbath Living retreat over Memorial Day weekend was filled with deep love. The retreat began on Friday night with the celebration of a “love feast” in which community members served each other the bread of life and living water with the words, “God loves you and so do I.” What a moving scene. Old persons serving young persons. White folks serving black folks. Tough men with tears in their eyes hugging one another.
Across our three days together, we reflected on how we might live at the pace of grace, how we might make a space for grace in our lives, and how we might find our place of grace in the Body of Christ. As our time drew to a close, folks had the opportunity to come to the altar for anointing with oil. Every person in attendance—fifty-five people—came forward. It was a Holy Spirit moment, a time of healing, reconciliation, and empowerment.
It was hard to leave that place. In three days together, we had come to love one another. How could we say farewell? We joined hands, each person turned to the other, looked in their eyes and said, “God loves you and so do I.”
Blessed Earth is pleased to announce that thanks to Two Words Publishing 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life is now available in audio format. You can learn more or purchase a copy on their website.
This sermon by Sean Cordell, pastor of Treasuring Christ Church in Raleigh, NC, highlights the significance of coming to Jesus Christ for rest.