16 minutes | Mar 20, 2020

Chapter 6: If It Doesn't Feel Like Rest, That's Because It's Not Rest

6. IF It doesn’t Feel Like Rest, It’s Not(Luke 6:1-12)Anza was a young Mexican mom who came to my English classes. I invited her to church and she was thrilled to join me. Her first Sunday in the Hispanic church, she watched everything I did and copied me, which was funny ‘cause I’m the worst at fitting in at church! My mind wanders like a toddler at Chuck E Cheese, which inevitably leads to me to do something awkward. It was super cute that she was trying so hard to fit in and endearing that she thought I could teach her how!One day, after a few months, Anza just quit showing up. I went by her house and she hid from me. I assumed it was something I had done, because my wandering mind also blurts out lots of things which I perceive as clever, uplifting sarcasm and others perceive as hurtful, judgmental, old bittiness. So, I was determined to apologize. I went by Anza’s work and caught her as she was leaving.She clearly didn’t want to see me, but I had to blurt out an apology. As I was telling her I was so sorry I had insulted her, she interrupted.“Oh, teacher Cindy, it was not you. I couldn’t pay my bills and I did bad things. I did not want to come to church until I got better.”It turned out my friend had come to the area of the country I was living in at the time to escape a life of abuse and being sold by her ex-husband to pay bills. She had changed her name and gotten a fake I.D. so no one from her old life could find her. Making enough money to support a child is hard for many single moms; it’s extra hard when you don’t speak English well. Anza got desperate.Anza no longer had an abuser pushing her to have sex with strange men to keep from being beaten. Instead, she was driven by shame and desperation. It took a month of me continuing to visit Anza and helping her before she trusted me enough to tell me what was going on.“Oh Anza, why didn’t you let our church know how much you were struggling?” I asked.Anza looked at me like I had just suggested she invite immigration over for supper.As I continued to talk to her over the next few months, I realized she viewed going to church as a way to “give back to God.” She believed that the purpose of being in a church was to give extra money and time to support the “ministry of the church.” She also believed sermons were to “teach her what she was doing wrong.”So, when she found herself caught in a vicious cycle of desperation and shame, sadly, the last place she wanted to turn for help was the church.I wish I could say Anza was just being paranoid, but I knew she had good reasons for feeling the way she did. Even when I wasn’t caught up in my own vicious cycle of messiness, I felt the pressure of “supporting the church.” I wrestled with it for many years. Truthfully, I still have to be on guard against being sucked in. No matter how much I gave, someone was always there telling me it wasn’t enough.For example, when my kids were in middle school and high school, their youth minister confronted us for yet another way we weren’t giving enough. At the time, my hubby and I were both serving in our church as leaders, teachers and generous givers. We served the church to a ridiculous amount that I don’t recommend.How had we “failed”?By letting our kids play sports and occasionally missing church events. In the youth pastor’s words, we were “choosing sports over God.” At the time, I let myself be bullied into feeling guilty. I was working, raising three kids, volunteering, and taxiing kids to practices. It was insane! My kids would go to church all sweaty and gross from practice, but we’d bust our butts to work it all in (and still get accused of putting sports before God). If that’s the condemnation I got, what hope did Anza have?Turns out, Jesus wasn’t about that kind of legalistic judgment. He wanted us to know God and to have support here on earth. He knew life would be tough and following him would be hard. His plan for church was for it to empower us to connect with God and each other.He wanted his followers to offer a place of refuge for people like Anza. A place for them to learn to live their lives with him. He wants to empower all of us to rise above every hardship of this wonderful, beautiful, yet evil and broken world. He wants to give us peace when we face the hardest things we can imagine and to empower us to be the very best version of ourselves.The word used for God’s love for us in the Bible is AGAPE, and it means an unconditional love not based on being deserved or earned through service. Agape earnestly seeks the best for the recipient. This kind of love is actually impossible for us as human beings to completely understand. We cannot fully comprehend a love not based on what we get from it. How do you love someone who doesn’t deserve your love? It’s not natural. But somehow God does it for us.The fact that much of church culture revolves around burdensome service to their mission shows our complete inability to comprehend how much God actually loves and accepts us. God’s kind of love is so beyond our comprehension that we have to constantly reconnect with him in order to live in it. Our drift is always back to religious rules and service.During the time of Luke’s gospel, the religious leaders had also created a culture of burdensome service to the temple. The Jews around Galilee were not able to participate in temple worship as often because of geographical influences. They were also less strict because of their cultural heritage. The criticisms of them by the religious elite roughly parallels the tensions between fundamentalists and liberals in Christianity today. Both sides often miss the point as they argue over rules and strict or lose interpretations. I mean, do you ever hear people from different denominations saying, “What can you teach me about Jesus that I may not see from my vantage point?” They are too concerned with having correct theology to focus on knowing how Jesus is at work in all kinds of different ways in our world.Similarly, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day went crazy over debating how to keep the Sabbath commands. “Sabbath” is the Hebrew word derived from their root word for rest. Sabbath days were given to God’s followers in his most basic instructions: The Ten Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” God gave his followers some pretty simple instructions: Set aside a day of the week, rest from all your hard work and reconnect with him. It was meant to be gift.In Mark 2:27, Jesus says, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (NIV). Taking a break and reconnecting with God one day a week is a completely emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy thing to do. But it is hard for us to believe God gave us this rule (or any rules) for our freedom and benefit.It feels like because he is important and he is God, and we are little nobody peons we should totally do something to impress him. So, we try. We dress up and we put on really elaborate shows on Sunday. We endure all kinds of awkwardness created by humans, thinking somehow serving the big institution puts a gold star by our names on God’s refrigerator chart.There are millions of ways modern Americans have made Sunday mornings an elaborate religious show for God. Very seldom does what happens on Sunday morning seem to be for people to recharge and connect with God. (This is perhaps why tons of modern Jesus followers are abandoning Amercanized church.)The ancient Jews went crazy with their rest day rules in a different way. They were hyper-strict about Sabbath rules. They had rules defining at exactly what point you were working and what was considered rest. Obviously, the rule debating religious elite were out of touch with the working-class people who were mostly farmers and manual laborers. I mean…uhhhm Hey religious dudes, we know when we aren’t working. It’s called sitting down! (Really, has anyone ever needed rules about how to rest?)Throughout the ages, all religions have been performance based. For some reason, human beings can’t seem to accept God loving us and wanting us to rest to connect with him. We can’t believe the connecting would be for our benefit because he already loves us.It can’t be that simple…But when you consider this story from Luke 6, you see Jesus said it really is that simple.One Sabbath while Jesus was passing through fields of standing grain, it happened that His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Luke 6:1-2 NIV).The ancient Jewish laws were so strict about what you could do on the Sabbath that rubbing grain in your hands was considered “harvesting” which was totally work! The rule was “don’t work,” so God must have been displeased with this seemingly insignificant act. (Again, imagine this rule through the eyes of an ancient laborer who had actually harvested wheat by hand. It’s comically ridiculous.)Jesus replied to them, “Have you not even read [in the Scriptures] what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him— how he went into the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to the men who were with him?” Jesus was saying to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” vs. 3-5 (NIV).Jesus reminded them King David had not only broken rules but also, he broke original rules straight from God. God told the Israelites to set aside food for the priests to eat. David went into the temple and took the forbidden holy bread, ate it, and then gave some to his soldiers. David’s need while he was running from King Saul was more important than following the bread rule.Jesus was showing the Pharisees that in all of their effort to keep rules about rules
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