Sunday, July 25, 2010

Living in Grace

by Keri Wyatt Kent

It’s been said that if we forget the past, we are destined to repeat its mistakes. So I wonder what will happen in a culture focused on the here and now, a culture that proclaims anything not the latest and greatest is “so five minutes ago.”

I do a lot of teaching and writing on the ancient practice of Sabbath, which God told us to observe and remember. It was an important enough directive that it is included in the Ten Commandments. I’ve had people argue with me that because of Jesus, we are set free from the law, so we don’t need to practice Sabbath. While it is true that we are saved by grace and not by keeping the law, that doesn’t necessarily “prove” that Sabbath keeping is irrelevant, any more than salvation by grace demonstrates that any of the other commandments are irrelevant. Even if we are trusting Jesus for redemption, we still believe “don’t lie” and “don’t murder” are good rules to live by, and act accordingly.

We won’t earn God’s favor through rule-keeping, which actually has exciting implications for those who want to practice Sabbath. It sets us free from legalism, and allows us to enter into the heart of Sabbath rest—which is a picture of communion with God. It allows us to experience grace. Sabbath began as a Jewish practice—and the roots of the Christian faith are firmly planted in Judaism. When we understand and appreciate the common past we have with Jewish people, we come to understand our faith, and indeed Jesus, in a new way. We must understand the context of our faith.

There are threads running through Sabbath that give it richer meaning. Just as the children of Israel kept Sabbath as a reminder of their being freed from slavery, we are freed from the slavery of sin. Just as Sabbath flattened social hierarchy, Jesus did as well. The two loaves of bread on the traditional Jewish Shabbat table represent the two portions of manna the Israelites would gather on the day before Sabbath. The practice reminds us of the past. But it also looks ahead. Our communion table, like the Sabbath table, is adorned with bread, candles and wine. The loaves also represent the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord of the Sabbath, who referred to himself as the bread of heaven. It’s also a prophetic picture of our ultimate spiritual rest in heaven, in perfect communion with Jesus.

It’s one thing to see and appreciate the connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament. But when we actually take a day of rest, we live in those connections. We experience physical rest, and it deepens our understanding of spiritual rest. To practice Sabbath is to live in grace.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


by Elisa Morgan

I didn’t used to like coffee. I was a “tea” girl instead. Coffee was – well – it left a “hmmmphghhhh” taste in the front of my mouth. Just behind my front teeth.

Throughout high school exams, college finals, even in the months of early motherhood where I blearily stared at the bundle God had entrusted to me wondering how I would ever manage to feed, bathe and clothe the thing, I didn’t drink coffee. I didn’t like the taste. To be honest, I was a little judgmental about friends and folks who did like coffee. After all, how could they?

And then, in my mid-thirties, it happened. I was minding my own business, seated at a round banquet table having just ingested the chicken dinner. I picked up my dessert fork to tine a bite of chocolate cake into my still-hungry mouth. And then, without really noticing, I reached for my coffee cup that was usually a teacup but had been filled with coffee by some thorough wait staff person. Without noticing its contents, I raised it to my lips.

I sipped. I slurped. I drew my head back and peered at the contents. Something was off. I stared at the espresso color. I swallowed again, ran my tongue against the back of my front teeth, puckered my lips and breathed out and in amazement. I took another sip. I liked it. I liked coffee.

This same stunning surprise has occurred over and over in my relationship with God. There are lots – oh so many things! – that I don’t particularly like at first.

Interruptions that draw my attention off the oh-so-very-important project I’m buried in and on to – get this – a human being. I raise my head from my task and squint at the person before me and am somehow strangely more gratified than I was just minutes before in my all-consumingly vital task.

Disobedient dogs who go running after balls in the middle of the dog park and don’t come back even when I scream their names so loudly my husband can hear me on the deck of our house a mile away. And then they come back so happy, and muddy, and slobbery and oblivious to their error and eager to love and be loved. And I laugh. A concrete illustration of all the very real issues I can’t control in life.

Yep. There are lots of things I don’t like. I honestly think I finally started to like coffee partly because I’d matured to the point that my mouth could take in its offering. But also because I let my guard down – the piece of me that had staked a side of my identity on not liking coffee.

Looking back at my dislike and then like of coffee has made me reconsider all the other things I haven’t liked, and why. Disobedient dogs. Interruptions. Middle of the night tug of wars. Perplexing unanswered prayers. Here’s what I’m discovering: after sitting with most “unliked” things and eventually inviting God to sit with me in them, I start to sip, slurp and eventually draw my head back in surprise deciding: I like it. Sometimes begrudgingly. Sometimes just sorta – but I like it more than I don’t.

Know why? I decide I like it because I like God. And if he’s allowed it and if he’s in it, well, then I guess I like it.

Today I like coffee. Who knows what I’ll like tomorrow?

Monday, July 5, 2010

When God Feels Far

by Nicole Unice

God disappeared last week. After months of new transitions, at last I had opportunities to do what I thought God wanted. And in the busyness, I paused long enough to take stock—and he was gone.

Of course, my mind retorted, God is not missing. God is the Great I AM; he is always personal, always present. One morning – far from home at a conference in Colorado - I stood and gazed at the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. They were about twenty miles away, but visible from every vantage point. But the reality of the mountain—the feeling of a climb beneath my feet, an opportunity to summit and take in the view, even one tree or blade of grass—was so distant, I couldn’t see it or feel it. Like the mountain, God was present, but felt distant.

As leaders in ministry, the feeling of God’s distance can be so unnerving – Bible studies go on, groups must be led, people need to be encouraged – and we wonder if we should even be doing ministry. So in that silence last week I grabbed my Bible and flopped under a tree. I flipped open to the gospels to ask: “What if I was an average girl, living in first century Judea? What would Jesus tell me to do when God feels far and I feel alone?”

I scanned the first two chapters in Matthew while plucking grass…hmm, baby Jesus won’t do. Average Judean girl wouldn’t know about his birth. Chapters three and four-- I couldn’t help think about how I would teach about Jesus’ temptation, rather than what is there for me. My eyes scanned and stuck on Matthew 4:17: “Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”

Repent. I rolled over to stare at the sky and wonder. Who am I, really? Am I the composite of what others see – busy, bright, “gifted?” Am I the me I know—prideful, petulant, selfish? The truth probably lies in the middle, I thought, but either way, just one sentence from the mouth of Jesus reminded me how desperately I need God – Father, Lover, Healer, Savior.

I read on, into Matthew five and six, and I am that Judean girl on the mountainside, watching this wild and wonderful man tell me how to find God. I began to think about the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. I realize that God feels far when I feel strong, because I don’t meet any of that criteria. And I begin to realize that to find God, I need to be where he hangs out. He’s with the downcast and the low. He’s present to the pure of heart.

As the sunlight flickered through the trees, I sensed his whisper again. I’ve been God’s fair-weather friend, available when I have time and it’s convenient. But that isn’t God. And he doesn’t wait on me. I wait on him. I hear him again in the pages of his Word and I feel peace. Perhaps I needed him to be distant, so that I am reminded how much I need him. Perhaps he “hid” so I could seek.

Nicole Unice is a counselor, women's ministry director and writer living in Richmond, VA.