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Sabbath: A Day Set Apart

Sabbath: A Day Set Apart

In the Christian tradition of my early formative years, one day each week was uniquely different. That day was Sunday.  As a farming family, we got out of our work clothes, put on our Sunday best, crammed into our car and made our way to a small country church. After church we had a scrumptious family dinner, and unlike many of the farmers nearby, my father would do only essential farm work in tending to our animals. I remember my mom saying to me, “As Christians, Sunday is our Sabbath, a day of rest.”

Sadly, in the years following my childhood the weekly rhythm of a Sabbath day was in many ways lost. Looking back I realize there were several blinding factors that contributed to Sabbath neglect in my life, including overcorrecting Sabbath legalism, a penchant toward workaholism, and perhaps most surprising, was my pastoral calling. When I became a pastor Sunday became a workday and another day of the week was not intentionally and diligently set aside and protected for Sabbath rest. The good news is after years of neglect, building a more consistent Sabbath rhythm in my life has become increasingly important and life giving. I also believe that a weekly Sabbath rhythm is really important for the flourishing and formation of every apprentice of Jesus. So what is the big deal about a weekly Sabbath day? Why a Sabbath day?

 

Why A Sabbath Day?

 

Let’s take a look at what the Bible says regarding the Sabbath. Sabbath is a Hebrew word that means rest, tranquility, peace and delight.  A Sabbath day is actually built into the very fabric of original creation, described for us in the very first book in the Bible. After original creation, before sin and death entered God’s good world, God rested on the seventh day. In Genesis chapter 2 we read,  “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done. And he rested on the seventh day from all his work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…”

In his classic book entitled, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that embedded in creation design is the truth that we were created in time, but with more than time in mind. Sabbath points us to eternity deeply planted in our hearts. Heschel writes,

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

The importance of six days of work and one day of rest was anchored not only in the gracious rhythms of creation design but also reinforced to God’s covenant people in the giving of the Ten Commandments. In the book of Exodus we read that the fourth commandment set apart the seventh day of the week. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (set apart). The Bible recounts how God’s covenant people tragically corrupted the inherent goodness of the Sabbath day. The problem was that God’s covenant people lost sight of the big picture of Sabbath. They made Sabbath about adherence to a bunch of soul-suffocating religious rules, to the point of virtual absurdity. Instead of the Sabbath pointing to the pursuit of a growing intimacy with God, it became a soul-suffocating yoke of works righteousness seeking to merit favor with God. Rather than a day of joy and restful delight, it became 24 hours of prideful self-righteous nit-picky drudgery. But Messiah Jesus made it clear that he was Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus framed Sabbath not first and foremost as a day we set aside each week as good and life-giving as that is, but ultimately Himself as the one and only Son of God we know and are deeply known by. The Sabbath ultimately points us to a person, the person of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The New Testament writer of Hebrews reminds us Jesus is our Sabbath rest. Through saving and life-giving faith in Jesus our Lord and Savior “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” This Sabbath rest Jesus invites us to experience as we put on his yoke of apprenticeship. It is in his yoke we find true Sabbath rest for our souls. It is this Sabbath rest that woos us to our future ultimate rest in the New Heavens and New Earth. When we carve out a Sabbath day from our busy and distracted lives, it allows the fresh and hopeful breezes of eternity to blow in our longing hearts. Sabbath rest is an appetizer for heaven. So how do we better experience a weekly Sabbath?

 

How Do We Experience A Weekly Sabbath?

 

How do we live more fully into a day set apart each week? For many of us that day will be Sunday. Whatever day you choose, let me offer six suggestions that I trust will be helpful, life- giving and healing for you and those you love.

First, block off in your calendar a weekly day for Sabbath. For many of us our week is overly scheduled so if we do not plan ahead, our Sabbath day will get crowded out. Let others around you know what your Sabbath day is and ask them to respect that commitment.

Second, embrace a technology fast. Minimize the distractions that come from screen time whether that is your phone or computer. I know many today who literally put their smartphones in a drawer for their Sabbath day. If you are married and have children, make this commitment as an entire family. It may sound difficult, but if you will practice this discipline the relational and wellbeing rewards will be soon evident.

Third, avoid any work related matters and emails. A true emergency may demand your immediate attention, but avoid any work related matters that are not of an emergency nature. Plan ahead as much as possible to cover work responsibilities so that a day of rest will not compromise the importance God places on the stewardship of your paid and unpaid work.

Fourth, embrace a slower pace of unscheduled unhurried time. Enjoy extended conversations, relaxing meals and fun activities with those closest to you. Allow for spontaneity in your day.

Fifth, spend an extended time with God. If your Sabbath is Sunday make attendance at corporate worship a priority, but also carve out some personal time to read the Scriptures, to listen to God’s voice and pray.

Sixth, put yourself in the path of beauty. For many, the healing aspect of beauty is found in extended walks in nature or enjoying nature in some way. For others it may be reading a book, playing or listening to music, enjoying an art museum, making a craft of some kind or playing a round of golf on a manicured golf course. In what place or activity do you feel God’s pleasure? One of the greatest gifts of Sabbath is experiencing God’s delight in you as his cherished beloved.

 

Our daily work matters, but our weekly Sabbath rest matters, too. Perhaps more than many of us realize. I love how Abraham Joshua Heschel prompts us to embrace Sabbath’s good and life- giving creation design.

 

“Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. “

The Grave Injustice of Legalized Abortion On Demand

The Grave Injustice of Legalized Abortion On Demand

This January marks the 49th anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. On January 22, 1973, the highest court of our land circumvented legislative process and declared by judicial fiat that abortion on demand is legal. Discovering a constitutional right to privacy relating to abortion as well as drawing an arbitrary line around fetal viability, the court deemed the unborn less than human, depriving them of the right to life. 

I believe the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade was morally, legally, and scientifically bankrupt. In many ways Roe v. Wade tragically echoes the Dred Scott v. Sandford case decided in 1857, which declared that Americans of African descent were not American citizens and instead categorized as property. This immoral court ruling perpetuated racism and provided the ongoing legal cover for the cultural legitimacy of slavery. 

As a nation we look back at Dred Scott and shudder with visceral incredulity and moral outrage. How could this be? We wonder how the highest court of the land could legally sanction and codify such glaring injustice. We are aghast how a culture could be so easily deceived, callused, and morally blinded. Yet, as a nation for 49 years we continue to legally sanction abortion on demand, justifying it by sound bite pro-choice rhetoric and sleight of hand obfuscations. 

Make no mistake: dehumanization is the same deceptive force that fuels the taking of unborn life. The abortion industry is rooted in a history of eugenics that targets minority children for eradication. We cannot turn a blind eye to the compounding evils of Dred Scott and Roe and their lasting impact on minority and under-resourced communities in our country. 

We must not be deceived by the seductive arguments of “my body my choice,” sex without consequences, and placing career and comfort above the lives of the unborn. Our culture, on the one hand, praises autonomy and self-indulgence above all else, while on the other, dismisses the real needs of women facing unplanned pregnancies. We must be counter-cultural. We must recognize the humanity and value of each unborn life and do everything we can to support each woman walking the difficult road of unplanned pregnancy and motherhood. We must show unwavering compassion both to the unborn and the brave mothers who carry them. 

We also must not be deceived by the supposedly noble goal of making elective abortion, “rare and safe.” Like the immoral slavery industry of old, we have an immoral abortion industry that has no vested interest in making abortion increasingly rare. This abortion industry is driven not only by an ideology deifying personal choice at the great expense of denying the right to life of the unborn, but also motivated by great economic gain. How should we respond to this grave injustice that leaves the innocent in the jaws of death? 

From the inception of Christ Community, we have had an unwavering commitment to uphold the sanctity of life for all human beings, unborn and born. Along with an unwavering commitment to the sanctity of human life, we are whole-heartedly committed to extend compassion to those who have been and continue to be so deeply wounded by abortion.

The Gospel of the Kingdom we embrace as broken sinners like you and me brings the heart-arresting hope of healing and wholeness. If you have been wounded by abortion and would like to talk with someone, please contact one of the pastors at your campus. You are welcome at our church. Our staff desires to be there for you in any way they can. 

How should we respond to the grave and glaring injustice of abortion? Let me suggest a few reflections for us to consider. 

First, we need moral clarity around legalized abortion on demand. We dare not confuse the legality of something with its morality. Legal legitimacy does not necessarily mean moral legitimacy. As followers of Jesus guided by the clear teachings of Holy Scripture, the unborn are image bearers of God, have unimaginable intrinsic worth and are to be cared for and protected (Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5). We are called to protect the vulnerable and give a voice to the voiceless (Proverbs 31:8-9). 

Second, in a highly rancorous partisan culture, we must not confuse legalized abortion on demand as a partisan issue. Legalized abortion on demand is first and foremost a moral issue. Regardless of our partisan views and commitments, addressing societal injustice is the responsibility of all of us, both as citizens of this nation and citizens of the Kingdom of God. 

Third, we must continue to advocate with tenacity in the public square, in the halls of government, and in the courtroom for moral laws in regard to abortion. 

Fourth, as the prophet Micah reminds us, we are called not only to do justice, but also to love kindness and walk humbly with God. Moral clarity and properly motivated justice zeal must always be forged and formed in intercessory prayer guided by kindness, compassion, and humility. The moral clarity of our minds must be shaped by the Christ-like love in our hearts, expressed in the truth-laden, yet gentle tone of our voices. 

Fifth, as a church family we have and will continue to work with and support crisis pregnancy centers like Advice and Aid that helps those with unplanned pregnancies and offers support for those healing from the wounds of abortion. We will also continue to advocate for adoption and support birth mothers and adoptive families. 

Sixth, let us pray for a spiritual awakening for our nation and not lose heart (Luke 18:1).  An awakening where the church and people of all goodwill might gain moral clarity and address the most compelling injustices of our time, including the grave injustice of the destruction of unborn human life. Pray also for the U. S. Supreme Court as it decides perhaps the most important abortion case of a generation, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In this case, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to walk back, or even end, the constitutional right to abortion it pronounced in Roe v. Wade. 

For those of us in our church family who reside in Kansas, we have an important  opportunity this upcoming summer to support the Value Them Both Amendment. If you have not yet heard about the Value Them Both Amendment, I would encourage you to become informed and involved as the Lord may lead you. Even the smallest of steps of involvement will make a difference. 

Passing the Value Them Both Amendment is crucial to protecting pro-life laws in Kansas and preventing Kansas from becoming a safe haven for the abortion industry. In 2019 the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Kansas Constitution provides an “inalienable” right to abortion–even more radical than Roe v. Wade. One consequence of this ruling is that Kansas’ pro-life laws are in danger of being stricken down by the courts. Another consequence is that if Roe v. Wade is overturned at the federal level, then Kansas will continue to recognize a nearly unlimited right to abortion. The only way to reverse this tragic course is to amend the Kansas Constitution, and we have the opportunity to do so with the Value Them Both Amendment in August 2022.  

As a church we have been, and will continue to be, non-partisan. However, in regard to legalized abortion on demand, this is not a partisan issue, but a moral one that transcends partisanship. I am grateful for a church family that embraces both uncomfortable truths and compassionate grace. How my heart longs for a day when the unborn will be valued, cherished, and protected. I hope yours does too. 

Does The Local Church Really Matter?

Does The Local Church Really Matter?

We may only be at the beginning of a major health crisis. But it may not be for the reasons that first come to mind. This is what two Harvard researchers are saying in our cultural moment. Tyler VanderWeele, professor of Epidemiology and director of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University and his associate director, Brendan Case, recently published an article entitled Empty Pews Are An American Health Crisis.  Noting the continuing decline in church attendance in our country, these two Harvard researchers point to a sizable body of research that speaks to how participation in a faith community strongly promotes health and wellness.  Here is what these researchers say. “…Americans’ growing disaffection with organized religion isn’t just bad news for churches; it also represents a public health crisis, one that has been largely ignored but the effects of which are likely to increase in coming years.”  The Harvard researchers offer this conclusion.  “Something about the communal religious experience seems to matter. Something powerful takes place there, something that enhances well being; and it is something very different than what comes from solitary spirituality.…The data are clear, going to church remains central to human flourishing.” 

A bold assertion about the importance of going to church coming from university professors and not from pastors or theologians may be surprising. However the idea that human flourishing and human belonging go hand in hand is anything but a new idea. The Bible tells us God designed the family and the local church to be the primary sustaining institutions for human flourishing. Jesus pointed to his called out community when he said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

Jesus makes the case that real faith not only rightly believes; it also deeply belongs. A primary metaphor of the local church in the New Testament is a body. The New Testament writers paint a beautiful picture of the body of Christ with its diversity, unity, interdependence and commitment to one another. As apprentices of Jesus our calling is not to just show up at church–that is an essential part–the goal is to truly belong to a local faith community. Martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer speaks of Christian faith as a belonging faith. “We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence. Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or its destruction. This is no mere theory; it is a spiritual reality” (Life Together, pg. 100). 

We are not only called to Christ; we are called to each other. We simply cannot grow to spiritual maturity, become whole, or truly flourish without embracing a belonging faith. While Sunday morning attendance is very important for a belonging faith, finding a smaller group of Christ Community brothers and sisters in Christ is also very important if we are truly going to flourish and help others flourish.

Do we have a small handful of other Christ Community members who we are doing life with? Are we taking the initiative to know others and be known by others, to share our stories more fully and truly? Who in our faith community knows our joys, hardships, heartaches, burdens, questions, doubts, dreams, and hopes? Who do we know is praying for us? Doing life together in spiritual community unleashes joy in our lives, but it can also be messy, hard and at times disillusioning. We are all broken with flaws and failings. We all look through a mirror dimly and we may see a good number of things differently. We must remember life together now in local church community is not the New Heavens and New Earth that await us in eternity. Embracing with both head and heart a daily kind of hopeful realism is the order of the day. As yoked apprentices walking in the Spirit, let us prayerfully exhibit sacrificial love, a ton of grace and lots of patience with our dear fellow brothers and sisters in our multi-site church family. Truly loving one another in word and deed forges a belonging faith and is the most compelling witness we have to a watching world. 

In this season of Advent let us not only thank God for the gift of the incarnate Son, but also the gift of our local church family. From both the realms of empirical research and biblical revelation we are reminded how much the church really matters in the world. If you have not yet truly embraced a belonging faith and made Christ Community your home, I would encourage you to do so. Reach out to one of our staff about some small group possibilities that are available at your campus. I also believe it is fair to conclude that one of the best ways to love your neighbor is to prayerfully invite them to join you at church. Advent would be a great time to take that loving step. 

 

 

   

 

 

 

   

 

Who Is Curt Thompson?

Who Is Curt Thompson?

“Who is Dallas Willard?” Those were the words expressed to me by a church member more than twenty years ago after I had announced with great enthusiasm that Dallas Willard had agreed to come to Christ Community for a weekend conference. However, I did understand the question being raised by a thoughtful congregant because Dr. Willard had yet to become a common name in most Christian circles.

I had read a good deal of Dallas Willard’s early writings on spiritual formation. I had also spent time with Dallas and sat under his teaching in a doctoral course. I was struck by his remarkable insight and the great importance of his teaching on spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines. I knew that Dallas Willard getting on a plane and coming to Kansas City to teach our congregation was a great gift. Those who would eventually meet and learn from Dallas Willard would also recognize what an extraordinary gift he was to our church family.

I have had several thoughtful members of Christ Community ask a similar question regarding Curt Thompson’s visit with us. “Who is Curt Thompson?” Curt Thompson is not yet a household name in Christian circles, but I believe his insightful voice in the area of spiritual formation and interpersonal neurobiology is really important. For the last several years, I have found his writings on spiritual formation, attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology to be extraordinary for disciples of Jesus who in the power of the Holy Spirit seek greater wholeness and Christlikeness of life.

Liz and I have had the joy of spending time with Curt and have found him to be a devoted apprentice of Jesus. As a practicing psychiatrist, Curt exhibits a deep heart of empathy and authenticity that is warm, welcoming and engaging. In God’s kindness and good providence, Curt is coming to Kansas City in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic when mental health experts are telling us of the greater need to pay attention to the mental health of those we love as well as our own.

God created us as integral relational beings, and our flourishing in community encompasses our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.

Our church family is truly being given a remarkable opportunity for growth and flourishing as apprentices of Jesus. If you have not yet signed up for our evening with Curt Thompson on Thursday, October 14, go register as seating will be limited. You can also watch the event on our livestream. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from such an important voice in our time, and please pray for our time together. I hope to see you in person or online October 14!

 

So What’s This Made to Flourish Thing?

So What’s This Made to Flourish Thing?

Whether you are new to Christ Community or have been a part of our church family for a long time, you may be wondering what Made To Flourish is all about and why it is so important to our mission. Made to Flourish is a catalytic national ministry focused on narrowing the perilous Sunday to Monday gap many pastors and churches have unwittingly embraced. When a pastor or a church fails to equip followers of Christ for their Monday callings the consequences are stark.  The worship of God is greatly hindered, spiritual formation is largely stunted, gospel incarnation is painfully shallow, gospel proclamation is muted at best, and love of neighbor is greatly weakened. To be faithful to Jesus’ Kingdom Gospel whole-life-disciple-making mission, God’s new covenant people must be equipped for their everyday lives, a big part of which is their paid and unpaid work.  Of course Sunday matters, but so does Monday.

In accomplishing this God-honoring mission of whole-life discipleship, we believe the local church matters a great deal and that pastoral leadership is crucial. When pastors flourish, congregations flourish, and when congregations flourish, communities flourish. The New Testament reminds us that the local church is at the heart of God’s redemptive kingdom work in the world. The mission of Made to Flourish is to empower pastors and their churches to integrate faith, work, and economic wisdom for the flourishing of their communities. Our heartfelt hope and prayerful passion is a renewal of pastoral leadership and whole life disciple-making churches across our nation.

So why is Made To Flourish so important to our mission at Christ Community? Although Made To Flourish is a separate non-profit organization, it is inseparable from our mission. Made to Flourish is our primary national mission. From the very inception of Christ Community, now over thirty years ago, we have prayed for a spiritual awakening in our needy nation.  That national and cultural need is even greater today. Through the eyes of bold faith we have asked and continue to ask God to allow our church to play a quiet, catalytic role in renewing the church across our nation. Six years ago, in a partnership with the Kern Family Foundation located in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Christ Community played a key role in birthing Made to Flourish. While the Kern Family Foundation made available the necessary financial resources, as a church family we provided much of the intellectual, cultural, and leadership capital necessary to move Made To Flourish from an entrepreneurial concept to a national network. In these first six years the Lord has given us great favor, and as a church family we are a vital part of a growing whole-life discipleship movement that is multiplying disciples who are influencing our communities, our nation, and our world for Christ.

Let me give you a brief snapshot of the present national footprint of Made to Flourish. If you have not gone to the Made To Flourish website, I would very much encourage you to do so. I would also encourage you to look at our short True and Good video that captures the heart of our Made to Flourish mission. 

TRUE and GOOD VIDEO >

By missional design and with synergy, I divide my time serving both as president of Made to Flourish and as a senior pastor of Christ Community.  Our national Made To Flourish staff team now includes 18 gifted and experienced national team members. We have a network presence in 23 cities with 41 city network pastoral leaders. Presently there are about 4000 pastors in our network.  We are training a new generation of pastors through our 24 local church-based pastoral residency programs. We hope to add six more pastoral residencies this year.

In these first six years, Made to Flourish has developed many excellent equipping resources including books, videos, and our award-winning Common Good magazine. We work closely with other like-minded organizations across our country, and we host a yearly Common Good conference which will be online and available Friday, October 1, 2021. I encourage you to sign up and take advantage of this remarkable resource.

COMMON GOOD CONFERENCE > 

Every now and then, I hear people refer to Made to Flourish as Tom’s thing, but let me remind each one of us who are part of the Christ Community family, it is not Tom’s thing, it is our thing.  Actually, Made to Flourish is really God’s thing. He brought it into existence, and it is for His glory and praise. What all God has in mind for Made To Flourish I do not know, but I do believe that for such a time as this in our culture and our nation, Made To Flourish is sovereignly positioned to have a growing, positive impact.  So please stay informed about what God is doing through Made to Flourish and hold our Made To Flourish board, staff, and mission in your prayers.  We have seen God do amazing things so far, and there are sizable challenges and great opportunities in the days, months, and years ahead.