Leviticus 25:1-19 – Your Well-Being Is a Priority to God

And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.

‘And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement, you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field.

‘In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. Therefore, you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

‘So, you shall observe My statutes, keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety. (New King James Version)

Our continual well-being and rest are not optional; it is absolutely essential.

If a car is driven day-after-day and never gets an oil change, the engine will eventually seize and die. And if a person insists on driving their life every day with continual work, and never practices a Sabbath rest, that person will inevitably burn-out and die an early death. 

In this busy world, far too many persons are putting the pedal-to-the-metal with no thought to the consequences, and no plan for any kind of Sabbath rest. Many people throughout the modern world are slowly draining their souls, causing themselves physical harm, and are on the precipice of emotional and spiritual death.

Perhaps you raise a Mr. Spock eyebrow and wonder if I am being too dramatic. Yet, if we are to take today’s Old Testament lesson seriously, we will see that all of life is to be governed by a healthy rhythm of life which benefits both the individual and the community.

Yes, I fully understand that neither the contemporary person nor the Christian is currently living under ancient Israelite law. However, every single law in the Old Testament is grounded in the character of God. 

This means that, although we may not be obliged to hold the detailed specifics of the seven years system and a year of Jubilee, we are still beholden to observe a Sabbath rhythm of rest because God rested. And we ignore this built-in rhythm to our own peril.

Sometimes I watch the news, see all the upset people at one another and think, “Dude, you really need to sit down, relax, and have a sandwich. Just take a breath, man!” I sometimes wonder if God looks down from heaven at all the world’s conflicts and sees the people involved as a bunch of toddlers who simply need a snack and a nap.

Just as God loves, we are to love. As God is holy, so we are to be holy. And the same holds true for a Sabbath rest. Just as God rested from all the work of creating the world, so we, too, are to rest from our work. Laboring 24/7 will only give us regrets, not results.

If I haven’t been explicit enough, I will say it plainly: We are commanded by God to rest.

It is high time we begin building into our weekly planners, smartphone calendars, and long-range goals, a deliberate and purposeful inclusion of Sabbath rest. 

That means not just doing this biblical rest thing once-in-a-while, that is, if I can fit it in somewhere. A complete Sabbath rest entails making it a real actual event on a regular basis in our life, on our calendars. No excuses, no fudging of appointments, and no lame *sigh* about how busy we are. 

Set aside time today to build a Sabbath into your schedule for the rest of the year, and maybe beyond. I’m not saying this is at all easy; in fact, it is terribly hard for me to get this practice into my own life. 

Because I am a church pastor, hospital chaplain, husband, father, and grandfather, my times of scheduling meetings, events, and visits looks more like a Sudoku puzzle than a calendar. Engrafting some serious biblical rest into my life sometimes feels like hacking through a jungle, looking frenetically for some time.

But, without that rest, I am much less the person I need to be for all the people and responsibilities I care for. The people in my life deserve better than that. They don’t need my leftovers. And I suspect the people in your life want you to rest, too, because you matter to them.

Creator God, you formed the earth in six days and then rested on the seventh. Help me not to put Sabbath on some wish list of things to do someday but enable me to practice it with courage and without apology, through the name of Jesus, I live and pray. Amen.

Revelation 19:1-8 – The Time Is Coming

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a large crowd of people in heaven, saying, “Praise God! Salvation, glory, and power belong to our God! True and just are his judgments! He has condemned the prostitute who was corrupting the earth with her immorality. God has punished her because she killed his servants.” Again, they shouted, “Praise God! The smoke from the flames that consume the great city goes up forever and ever!” The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. They said, “Amen! Praise God!”

Then there came from the throne the sound of a voice, saying, “Praise our God, all his servants and all people, both great and small, who have reverence for him!” Then I heard what sounded like a crowd, like the sound of a roaring waterfall, like loud peals of thunder. I heard them say, “Praise God! For the Lord, our Almighty God, is King! Let us rejoice and be glad; let us praise his greatness! For the time has come for the wedding of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself for it. She has been given clean shining linen to wear.” (The linen is the good deeds of God’s people.) (Good News Translation)

The past few years, it seems as if the world is upside-down. For many people, living on this earth has become something of a surreal experience of folks dying apart from loved ones, racism rearing its ugly head through microaggressions, as well as overt words and actions, and neighbors killed due to gun violence. The suffering is palpable.

However, things will not always be this way. There is coming a time when disease, death, and poverty will end. In the age to come there will be no more numbing grief, seemingly endless tears, constant oppression, grinding hardship, and silent suffering.

The day will arrive when, together with all saints past and present, and along with the angelic host, we will collectively shout, “Hallelujah!” The end of this present age will eventually come.

Time is nothing more than the relationship between events. When all events are ended, there will be no more time – only unending eternity in the presence of God. For the Christian, this is our hope and ultimate salvation. Our deliverance from sin, death, and hell will be complete.

So, we wait and watch, preparing ourselves for the consummation of God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, we are truly in an awkward time between the two advents of Christ. It is the already/not yet time. We are already saved, yet not fully; we are holy, yet not completely; we have our adoption papers as children of God, yet still wait for our celebration feast with Christ.

There are few times more impatient, agonizing, joyful, and hopeful than a marriage engagement. It’s as if two people are inextricably connected but not yet completely together.

I still remember the weird feeling of the six months between my engagement to my heart’s love and standing at the altar marrying my bride. Those months included every emotion imaginable, from exuberant happiness to agonizing waiting, along with hopeful anticipation and sheer nervousness.

It was a time, for me, of unique joy and unwanted suffering. Since I was separated by two-thousand miles from my beloved for most of our engagement, it was an unparalleled longing for the marriage to occur.

That is likely how believers have felt throughout the ages as they look forward to the second coming of Christ. In a period of hardship and even persecution, Christians long for their Savior – to be with Jesus forever and be shed of the world’s crud, the sinful nature, and the machinations of the devil.

In this present age, we have received the Holy Spirit as a sort of engagement ring, a constant sign and presence to help us until the marriage happens with Christ as groom and the Church as bride. Since we have not yet experienced this, it is difficult for us to anticipate just how incredible and inconceivable the coming age will be.

Yet, the Christian intuitively knows, by means of the Spirit, that the upcoming marriage supper will be a heavenly paradise – and so we long for it, especially in these days of uncertainty and difficulty.

Presently, the great harlot attempts to seduce the believers, if that were possible, away from Christ. However, along with all God’s holy angels, we will join in the heavenly chorus which continually sings, “Praise God!” to Father, Son, and Spirit.

The book of Revelation describes the end of history for the purpose of encouraging the saints of God in the present moment of hardship. God will, once and for all, destroy evil, and faithful believers will be united with Christ forever in glory.

So, as we plod through the Christian season of Lent, we do so with the anticipation and hope of Easter and new life. Because Jesus is risen from death, we gaze into the future longing for our own resurrection. Presently, we hold both suffering and glory together, the past and the future.

For it is the past redemptive deeds of Christ which guide us in the present and gives shape to our future. Christ shall return – and it will be soon.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – It’s Time

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So, I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. (New Living Translation)

Maybe we enjoy celebrating the first day of a new year because it gives us a sense of having a clean slate. Perhaps we internally and/or unconsciously realize we wasted great chunks of time in the past year. So, we look forward to amending our ways and making new resolutions.

Time Is Finite

We cannot get it back once we lose it – hence, the lamenting of so much squandered time. We want to use our time in ways that reflect our most cherished values and commitments. For that, we need wisdom to know what to do, what not to do, and when to do it.

There needs to be a sense of purpose – of values which drive our goals and our actions – if we are to use our time in redemptive ways. Time is a gift, bestowed to us by a Creator who desires we steward that precious gift with sage understanding and wise discernment.

Time is a temporary commodity to be used for good purposes before the end of all time comes.

One of the realities of time is that our lives are full of seasonal rhythms and change over time. These are built into the life God has given us. The book of Ecclesiastes, throughout its contents, explains that nothing we pursue has any permanence to it. We throw ourselves into some work or activity, but what does that activity really do for us in the end?

Time Marches On

Time marches inexorably forward, no matter what we do or don’t do. Therefore, we must respect, and learn to work with, it’s slow and constant movement.

When I was twenty years old, I thought nothing of playing a round of golf in the morning, three sets of tennis in the afternoon, then staying up late at night with friends. If I did that same thing today, I would be in the hospital well before the sun sets.

We all, at some point, try to defy time and act like we can do the things we once did in the past. Sometimes it takes a lot for us to accept our limitations, whether it is our play or our work. Ecclesiastes teaches us that outside forces always seem to dictate what we can do and not do.

Time Is In Control

The cycles and rhythms of life can appear meaningless. We may feel as if we are prisoners of time. Yet, for the believer, time can be redeemed with godly purpose and meaning, no matter what the season of life is.

Because there is time, and all things will someday come to an end – all activity, or the lack of it, will be judged according to how we denied or accepted our limitations due to time. 

Ecclesiastes also offers to us what seems a subversive perspective that is counter-cultural to our society. Many Americans believe that by working hard and doing the right thing, we can shape our own destiny and prosperity.

However, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes insists we submit and move with the events, rhythms, and seasons God has established. Apart from God, time is futile and meaningless. In our denial of the power and effects of time, it is no wonder many Americans are so unhappy with their lives.

In the experiences we have from birth to death, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that everything is out of our control. Too many of us try to exert control over events, people, and circumstances when, in truth, any control we have is an illusion. I call this the “c-clamp syndrome,” trying to clamp down on others to get them to submit to our agenda.

Self-Control

Instead, Holy Scripture directs us to practice self-control – to focus on myself and my own actions:

Moderation is better than muscle, self-control better than political power. (Proverbs 16:32, MSG)

Prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. (1 Peter 1:13, NLT)

The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7, CEB)

Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful. (2 Peter 1:5-7, CEV)

We cannot force time to stand still. So, instead, we must focus on how we spend our time now.

It is time for us to lay aside lesser pursuits and diligently pursue what is right, just, and good. We each must give ourselves to the unforced rhythms of grace and let God redeem the time.

What time is it?  It’s time to live in harmony with the clock, with God, and with others.

God of all time help us to know ourselves. Teach us to recognize our weaknesses and work to walk in holiness. Let us follow you in all things, submitting to the times you have for us. Thank you for your unending grace and mercy toward us when we need it most. Help us to trust you with our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – What Time Is It?

There is a right time for everything, and everything on earth will happen at the right time.

There is a time to be born
    and a time to die.
There is a time to plant
    and a time to pull up plants.
There is a time to kill
    and a time to heal.
There is a time to destroy
    and a time to build.
There is a time to cry
    and a time to laugh.
There is a time to be sad
    and a time to dance with joy.
There is a time to throw weapons down
    and a time to pick them up.
There is a time to hug someone
    and a time to stop holding so tightly.
There is a time to look for something
    and a time to consider it lost.
There is a time to keep things
    and a time to throw things away.
There is a time to tear cloth
    and a time to sew it.
There is a time to be silent
    and a time to speak.
There is a time to love
    and a time to hate.
There is a time for war
    and a time for peace.

Do people really gain anything from their hard work? I saw all the hard work God gave us to do. God gave us the ability to think about his world, but we can never completely understand everything he does. And yet, he does everything at just the right time.

I learned that the best thing for people to do is to be happy and enjoy themselves, as long as they live. God wants everyone to eat, drink, and enjoy their work. These are gifts from God. (ERV)

Time is finite. We cannot get it back once we lose it. So, it is important to use our time in ways that reflect our most cherished values and commitments. For that, we need wisdom to know what to do, what not to do, and when to do it.

We can often use our time in strange ways. For example, Rafael Antonio Lozano of Plano, Texas has been on a quest to visit every company-owned Starbucks on the planet. He began his mission in 1997, when there were 1,304 Starbucks stores worldwide. Currently, there are 31,256 stores. As of September 2019, Lozano reported having visited over 15,000 global locations. 

Despite his impressive pace, Lozano is realistic about the nature of his quest, saying, “As long as they keep building Starbucks, I’ll never be finished.” He is also realistic about the importance of his mission. “Every time I reach a Starbucks, I feel like I’ve accomplished something,” he said, “when actually I’ve accomplished nothing.”

The book of Ecclesiastes would say, “There is a time to drink coffee, and a time to stay home.” Certainly, Lozano’s personal mission is extreme. But before we get too hard on Rafael, do we have a personal mission?  Does it reflect the stewardship of time God has given us?  When we get to the end of our lives, will we feel like we have accomplished something only to discover that we have accomplished nothing?

Time is a gift from God, and a temporary commodity to be used for God before the end of time comes.

One of the realities of time is that our lives are full of seasonal rhythms and change over time. These are built into the life God has given us. The book of Ecclesiastes is one that, throughout its contents, explains that nothing we pursue has any permanence to it. We throw ourselves into some work or activity, but what does that activity really do for us in the end?

Time is our master, and we must respect it.

When I was twenty years old, I thought nothing of playing a round of golf in the morning and three sets of tennis in the afternoon, then staying up late at night with friends. If I did that same thing today, I would have a team of doctors attending me in the hospital. We all, at some point, try to defy time and act like we can do the things we once did in the past. Sometimes it takes a lot for us to accept our limitations, whether it is our play or our work. Ecclesiastes teaches us that forces from the outside seem to always dictate what we can do and not do.

Time can be a harsh taskmaster.

The clock relentlessly and inexorably moves forward with the cycles and rhythms of life offering only meaninglessness, as we discover we are prisoners of time. But for the believer, time can be redeemed with godly purpose and meaning, no matter what the season of life is. Because there is time, and all things will someday come to an end – all activity, or the lack of it, will be judged according to how we denied or accepted our limitations due to time. 

Ecclesiastes also offers to us what seems a subversive perspective that is counter-cultural to our society. Whereas many Americans believe that if we work hard and do the right thing we can shape our own lives and our own prosperity, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes insists on submitting and moving with the events, rhythms, and seasons of God.  

Apart from God, time is futile and meaningless. In our denial, it is no wonder so many persons are so unhappy with their lives.

In the seasons of life and experiences we have from birth to death, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that everything is out of our control. Too many of us try to exert control over events, people, and circumstances when, in truth, any control we have is an illusion. I call this the “c-clamp syndrome,” trying to clamp down on others to get them to submit to our agenda.

Instead, Holy Scripture directs us to practice self-control – to focus on myself and my own actions:

Moderation is better than muscle, self-control better than political power. (Proverbs 16:32, MSG)

Prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. (1 Peter 1:13, NLT)

The end of everything has come. Therefore, be self-controlled and clearheaded so you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7, CEB)

Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful. (2 Peter 1:5-7, CEV)

We cannot make time stand still. So, we must focus on how we spend our time now. It is time for us to lay aside lesser pursuits and diligently pursue God. We each must give ourselves to the unforced rhythms of grace and let God redeem the time. What time is it?  It is time to live in harmony with God in all we say and do.

God of all time help us to know ourselves. Teach us to recognize our weaknesses and work to walk in holiness. Let us follow you in all things, submitting to the times you have for us. Thank you for your unending grace and mercy toward us when we need it most. Help us to trust you with our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.