Church on Sabbatical, Part 1

"Come away with me and rest awhile..."

-Jesus to his disciples in Mark 6:31

Sometimes we're tempted to think that because we have the presence of God among us that we should never feel tired, need a break or have the freedom to slow down our pace a bit. Jesus knew better.

Because he knew the demands that were being placed on his disciples, he encouraged them to join him in a period of rest. That rest ended up getting interrupted by a crowd of people (see Mark 6:34), but it does not negate the important truth that Jesus was aware of human limitations and encouraged "his guys" to enjoy rest when they may have been stretched beyond their capacity due to repeated travel and being too busy to eat (Mark 6:31).

Jesus' care for his disciples is built on the biblical principle of "sabbath" - something so integral to human existence that it is mentioned on the day after the creation of people in Genesis 2. God's creative activity during 6 days was followed by a seventh day of "rest," which became a template for the observance enshrined in Moses' law generations later. In fact, the Jewish people became known the world over for refraining from work every Friday at sunset through sunset on Saturday. (We have them to thank for our modern concept of "the weekend," by the way!)

Jesus also taught his followers the true purpose of the Sabbath - which was to promote life through the knowledge of God and doing His will. Far from being some kind of rigid restriction on human freedom, Jesus says that "sabbath was made for people." In other words, the prescribed weekly day of rest was for humanity's benefit - not simply to make sure people were avoiding work on a certain day just to prove how holy they were.

The New Testament reveals that some followers of Jesus continued to keep this Jewish rule of rest, while others felt in their consciences that they didn't want to treat one day any different than any other (see Romans 14:5-9). New Covenant life includes this freedom to organize our lives on the basis of our conscience. But, it would be a mistake to think that just because we are free not to keep a specific day as "Sabbath", we are therefore no longer in need of rest. In fact, rest is a gift and it is something we are responsible to steward in faith for God's glory!

At the beginning of our work at Cross Culture we programmed in time each summer to "press prause" on the various gatherings, ministries, and other activities we were committed to in order to still our hearts and minds, wait on God and listen for His voice. In recent years, we've neglected to do this.

Our experience of sabbatical as elders over the last year reminded us of the great value we can find in stepping away from the normal rhythms of our lives in order to face things God is trying to deal with in us, to receive refreshing and new strength and to refine our vision for who we are and what we are called to do together.

For that reason, we are returning to this practice of sabbath as a community, and we'll be "pressing pause" on the normal rhythms of our work as a church beginning on July 17. We'll be jumping back into things again starting on August 12.

What does that mean, on a practical level? I'm glad you asked! Stay tuned for more information in "Church on Sabbatical, part 2"!
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