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.
*This article was originally published by Relevant Magazine.
I love my work. Like many Americans, I pride myself on a strong work ethic. But sometimes I feel like I’m working all the time.
Instantaneous communications, nonstop connectivity and the option of working from home are all great. But they can also make us feel like we are never fully working or fully resting.
For many of us, TGIF has lost its savor.
We take on second jobs to earn extra bucks, check emails throughout the weekend and use Sunday afternoon to run errands or catch up on work.
A dozen years ago, my husband and I started a creation care ministry. It’s allowed us to meet some of the most intelligent and loving people in the world. It’s offered us ample opportunities to travel. And it’s given us a platform to speak into both the churched and non-churched culture.
And while working with my husband is one of the greatest joys of my life, it also has a dark side: We can easily find ourselves talking shop late into the night and on weekends.
Like all good things, work can become twisted. When we look for our identity in our jobs rather than in God, we can lose sight of the relationships that matter most.
The Bible is filled with admonishments to the lazy. But what does it say to a culture that finds itself working 24/7? Does God want us to enjoy the weekends?
We have only to open the scriptures to find out:
EVERYTHING CREATED BY GOD IS GOOD.
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5).
GOD DOES NOT WANT US TO WORK 24/7.
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:30-31).
GOD INVENTED THE WEEKEND.
The creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.
And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3).
REST. EVERY. WEEK.
God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them (Hebrews 4:1).
EVERYONE DESERVES SOME DOWNTIME (INCLUDING IMMIGRANTS AND MINIMUM WAGE EARNERS).
You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy (Exodus 20:8-11).
EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY.
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).
GET THE PARTY STARTED.
On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the Lord your God” (Numbers 10:10).
SHARE THE JOY.
Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8: 10).
REFRESH YOURSELF IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul (Psalm 23: 2-3).
DON’T FILL YOUR MIND WITH GARBAGE.[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8).
IT’S COOL TO COOL YOUR JETS.
Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). Or the ancient Greek (Septuagint) version: “Have leisure and know that I am God.”
YOU DON’T NEED TO DO IT ALL YOURSELF.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Weekends have a purpose. They let us step back and appreciate the goodness of honest labor. They help us value every day on earth as an undeserved gift. And they put our toil into perspective, reminding us it’s God who keeps the world spinning—not us.
Yes, work hard. Yes, steward your time wisely. And then every Friday afternoon, shout with joy: This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. (Psalm 118:24)
Or as that great oracle of my youth, Dr. Seuss, once said, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me NOW! It’s fun to have fun but you have to know how!”
Nancy Sleeth is the author of Almost Amish and co-founder of Blessed Earth. Recognized by Newsweek and Christianity Today as one of the “50 Evangelical Women to Watch,” lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband Matthew. For more Sabbath resources, visit sabbathliving.org.
This week I’ve been preparing to lead a Lenten day of silence for a nearby church. I know that may sound like an oxymoron: How exactly does one prepare for leading a silent retreat? Well, in this case, the organizers asked me to pick a theme that relates to Lent and then select three meditations, followed by questions that the people attending can contemplate in silence.
The theme I chose is Shabbat Shalom, Sabbath peace. It’s based on a few pages in a book I recently read: The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, by Joseph Telushkin and Dennis Prager. The authors speak briefly about four kinds of shalom that Jews seek on the Sabbath.
The first is peace within ourselves. The Jewish Sabbath laws are designed to bring peace on earth, a foretaste of heaven, one day each week. This peace must begin with the person we see reflected in our mirror each morning. To promote inner peace, religious Jews don’t use machinery and external sources of entertainment on the Sabbath. All week, we engage with (and are often enslaved by) email, television, Facebook, news, chores, and cell phones. In the quiet that descends on Shabbat eve, we re-learn how to be still and rest in God.
The second source of shalom is peace between people. Turning off external, mechanized sources of noise on our Sabbath produces another bonus: we suddenly have ample time to invest in relationships. One of the nearly universal consequences of Sabbath observance is the strengthening of ties among family and friends. In particular, the Sabbath meal allows time for uninterrupted conversation, with no one rushing off to make a call or keep an appointment. Sabbath is a chance for husbands and wives to reconnect, for children to engage with their parents and each other in a relaxed atmosphere, and for friends to have leisurely conversations and share their hearts.
Third, Sabbath also promotes peace between people and nature. Biblically, the injunctions to offer animals a break on the Sabbath, to give the land a rest every seventh year, and to practice Jubilee principles by not squeezing out every possible penny of profit are Sabbath practices that ensure rest for creation. In practical terms, if every Jew and Christian in the world worshipped on the Sabbath and then came home and didn’t buy anything or drive anywhere the remainder of the day, we could save about 14 percent of our carbon footprint. But even more significantly, by filling the emptiness inside with God rather than nonstop consumption, Sabbath peace flows into our habits the other six days of the week and allows us to stop and value our surroundings.
Last is peace between people and God. All week, we run around trying to fulfill immediate needs and desires. Shabbat is God’s day, when we look beyond the tyranny of the urgent and reflect upon the eternal consequences of our actions. Instead of focusing on my needs and desires, we focus on His generosity and goodness. On Sabbath we are invited to walk out onto the bridge between heaven and earth and meet the Creator of the Universe, the living and ever gracious God.
Which of these four kinds of shalom are you most drawn toward? For the remaining five Sabbaths until Easter, consider focusing on one of these. Then reflect upon the following questions:
- What practices can you eliminate during your remaining Sabbaths before Easter that will promote peace within yourself? No social media? A television fast? A break from the Internet?
- What practices can you add that will promote peace between people? Consider a Sabbath meal with family or friends, or reading a chapter aloud from an inspiring book and discussing it.
- What practices can you add or eliminate that promote peace with nature? Walking around the block and stopping to admire the spring blooms? Not driving anywhere except church? Abstaining from shopping–in stores or on the Internet?
- What practices can you add that will draw you closer to God? Thirty minutes of prayer on your knees sharing a heart of confession, adoration, and thanksgiving with God? Singing the Psalms? Memorizing a piece of scripture that has always delighted you?