Look out, Jesus. Mister Rogers is gaining on you.

I intend this blog to consist of primarily devotional or teaching writings, and to avoid snarky sound bites and tweet-worthy vacuity.

But I feel like I just have to get word out to Jesus on this one.  He is facing stiff competition…from Mister Rodgers.

That’s right.  According to this article on Today.com, “Rocked by tragedy, people turn to Mr. Rogers for comfort and wisdom“.  According to the article, the recent terrorist bombing at Britain’s Manchester Arena has people taking to social media with a quote from Mr. Rogers:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”

Huh.  Sentimentality aside (as well as the fact that Mr. Rogers has been dead for 14 years), that quote doesn’t do much for me.  I think I will stick with Jesus’ promises instead:  he will never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6), he will be with me (Matthew 28:20), and many, many more promises of providence, comfort, guidance, salvation and life.

Not only does Jesus offer a much better deal than Mr. Rogers, he is a much more credible source, having actually proven his love and power for me through his death and resurrection.  That is a for me a much bigger deal for me than just “looking for helpers.”

I can’t think of a more clear-cut example of modern idolatry than people turning to Mr. Rogers for comfort and wisdom, while at the same time utterly rejecting Jesus, his Comforter, and his Word.

I know, I know:  Mr. Rogers sings that I am special.  Well I don’t care.  I will gladly give up being special in order to cling to the One who has saved me, who provides for me, who comforts me, and who is preparing an eternal place for me.

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An open letter to Rod Dreher, Author, The Benedict Option

An open letter to Rod Dreher, Author, The Benedict Option

Dear Rod,

Thank you for writing your book The Benedict Option, to which I was introduced through your interview on Issues Etc. on March 31. Your book clearly lays out your observations about the state of our culture, its incompatibility with the historic Christian faith, how this came to be, and an approach that Christians can take as they seek to remain faithful to their faith and their Lord.

This letter isn’t so much a review of The Benedict Option as much as it is a response to it with some observations and reactions of my own. I would be honored if this is the beginning of a dialog between us, but hope in any case that this letter would be a blessing to all who read it. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

My background is that of a lifelong small-o orthodox Christian in the conservative (we prefer to say “confessional”) Lutheran tradition. We have many of the things that you value in the Eastern Orthodox church: we value the liturgy, we are sacramental, we study our faith in an ordered way, we study the church fathers, we understand our corporate confession and that we are surrounded the great cloud of witnesses of the saints in all times and in all places—that is to say, we understand that the Christian faith is not merely individualistic, but brings us into the Church, the bride of Christ.

At the same time, there are differences with the Orthodox church in at least our emphasis if not in our beliefs. I say this by way of disclaimer: I am not trying here to debate the merits of one tradition over the other, but will be writing here from the standpoint of a confessional Lutheran.

I have organized my thoughts into several categories.

Christians and the World

At the risk of being too much of a reductionist, your book shines a spotlight on the growing gulf between what is acceptable in the culture and God’s intended life for a Christian, and ponders what then we should do.

Arguably, this gulf has ALWAYS been there. Yes, I understand and appreciate the history of thought that you laid out: our culture has rejected the transcendent metaphysical, and is now myopically focused on bringing pleasure to the self. The shifting does require us to consider what it means to be in the world but not of the world in our present context. But this has ALWAYS been the case.

Jesus in John 15:19 makes it very clear: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

In other words, I agree with your observations in The Benedict Option (TBO) that the culture hates Christians. I also agree that radical change is needed on the part of individual Christians and of the visible church. But from my perspective, the need for Christians to understand that the world hates us goes back to Jesus’ ministry…or really, back to Israel in Egypt, or even before that.

Don’t misunderstand me: I do agree that radical living in the face of a hostile culture is needed. But I would contend that such radical living has been needed continually throughout the history of God’s people. In current times, we may have now reached a tipping point that opens our eyes to the fact that Christianity is inherently counter-cultural. We may now have been blessed with clarity akin to that given by Balam’s donkey speaking to him in Numbers 22.

For far too long Christians in the west have passively trusted that living in the culture would keep them living in the Christian faith. I doubt that this was ever what God intended, but now it is becoming clear that this misguided approach to the sanctified life will not work.

May our response as Christians be that of Balaam: “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me.”

It is Sin that Separates

In TBO you point out that up until the Enlightenment the so-called medieval “Model” was embraced, which understands that all things are related and have meaning because they come from the Creator. You point out that modern western thought has now discarded this understanding, leading to a worldview fraught with preoccupation with gratification of self, while bringing about endemic loneliness as a result of our disconnected individualistic isolation.

I appreciated your sharing of the quote from Aquinas: “To know that someone is approaching is not the same thing as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching”. That is, while the medieval “Model” might have better preconditioned people to be receptive to the Christian faith, the medieval “Model” was not synonymous with the orthodox Christian faith.

The orthodox Christian faith is this: God created a perfect world; man sinned; God redeemed the world through the incarnation of Jesus, through his perfect life, through his undeserved death, and through his glorious resurrection; through faith from the Holy Spirit and his working through means, we know that we too will live eternally—not because of our merit, but because of God’s grace in the atoning work of Christ.

My point is this: there was a gulf between pre-Enlightenment culture and the Christian faith. Yes, the context was different, the specific challenges were different, but there was a gulf just the same.

I would argue that this gulf between culture and Christian faith and life is the same gulf of sin that separates fallen creation from the perfect Almighty God. The reason that culture never has been and never will be synonymous with the Christian life is because earthly culture is always rooted in the fallen world, whereas through faith Christians are citizens of heaven. God has called us out of darkness into his light (1 Peter 2:9), but people love darkness because their deeds are evil (John 3:19)

Besides the details of our specific context, there is nothing new going on in today’s “post-Christian” culture. The only shock is that now that some Christians are beginning to see how they have been lulled into being lukewarm Laodiceans by embracing the former so-called “Christian” culture rather than boldly living a sanctified life in Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Victor

The gulf between culture and the Christian faith is really the gulf between darkness and light, between sinfulness and holiness. Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

And what is Paul’s instruction in this struggle? “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11)

In other words, the present cultural hostility towards Christians is long-standing, is intrinsically part of the Christian faith, is the result of sin, is part of a spiritual battle…and most importantly, is therefore the battle that the Lord Jesus has fought and won over death through his crucifixion and resurrection.

Can the visible church do more in this present darkness? Is Christian community important to individuals tenaciously holding to the orthodox faith? Can something like the Benedict Option be a helpful approach? Yes, yes, and yes.

But this is a spiritual battle that manifests itself in the physical. Christ is the victor. Christ is our refuge and strength.

Christian Community

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith. How does he do so? Through means: chiefly through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in which he gives supernatural gifts of faith and forgiveness of sins, and through the external Word—the Bible. The church is the steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1)

But as redeemed children of God, he does not leave us alone. In addition to his presence and the work of the Holy Spirit, he does bless us with fellow humans with whom we are in fellowship and community. He knows it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18)

Spouse and children are divinely appointed. The church—both the church invisible and the church visible—is established by Christ. The sacraments are instituted by Christ, and scripture is inspired by God.

Other forms of Christian community are not expressly commanded or forbidden—though scripture teaches us of love, compassion, service of neighbor, and something of what the 1st century Christian community of the church looked like.

Are monastic orders helpful? Perhaps for some people, in some times and in some places. Are monastic orders required or normative? Not as far as we can see in scripture.

On the other hand, is Christian love required and normative? Yes, absolutely—scripture clearly, explicitly and repeatedly calls us to and demonstrates for us the love we are to have as Christians.

What I’m getting at is this: insofar as “the Benedict Option” is a strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation, it is worthy of consideration and of discussion of pragmatic considerations and ways such an option could be manifested today.

But regardless of whether “the Benedict Option” or some other pragmatic option is embraced, orthodox Christians are bound by scripture which has a lot to say to us in a post-Christian nation. In fact, ALL of scripture is written to God’s redeemed who are living in a sinful world. Here are a few verses that come to mind:

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Matthew 5:48

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; … Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.  1 Peter 2:9-12

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.  Romans 6:12-13

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  John 15:18

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  Philippians 4:6

…therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. …To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.  2 Thessalonians 1:4; 11

My point is that so-called “christians” or so-called churches that think that they can live morally compromised lives so as to be compatible with the culture while remaining Christian are gravely mistaken. Sad as it is to say, since much of the modern church in America has embraced precisely this compromise, faithful orthodox Christians should be willing to and are even commanded to call these wayward brothers and sisters to repentance, to true faith in Christ, and to holy living.

None of us seek to be divisive or schismatic, but to turn a blind eye to blatant disregard for God’s word, his law, his salvation, and his pattern for living is neither loving nor unifying. There are not different levels of being Christian any more than there are different levels of being pregnant: either you are, or you are not. To the churches and individuals who think they are “christian” but neither repent of their sins nor trust in Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, orthodox Christians must be willing to prophetically say that these are not “Christian” based on the words of scripture.

The Main Thing

Whatever comes, Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins must remain central. We must continually receive God’s gifts through word and sacrament. It is the church to whom is given the pastoral office, the public proclamation of the Gospel, and the stewardship of the means of grace.

In other words, there can be no authentic Christian community without the church faithfully tending the sheep as Christ commanded Peter in John 21:17. No attempts to establish Christian community dare usurp the role of the church.

That said, the modern church has in many places shirked its responsibilities for the faithful proclamation of God’s word, for the administration of the sacraments, for pastoral care and discipline of the flock, and for the compassionate meeting of needs within the body of believers.

It seems then that two separate things are urgently needed: 1) Calling the modern church to repentance and renewal, to the faithful proclamation of the Gospel and right administration of the sacraments…and where this call is met with refusal, to call individual Christians to leave their so-called “churches” for congregations that are faithful to Christ’s commands, and 2) Finding ways in our present modern context for Christians to live out their lives in community at the foot of the cross, bearing in mind the example of the early church in Acts 2-8

What I am getting at is that a Benedictine (or other) Christian community cannot replace either the church, or the family—as these are both divinely instituted by God himself.

That said, there is a lot that can and must be done to strengthen the church, to strengthen and serve families, and to facilitate authentic Christian community at the foot of the cross.

We must be clear: the Benedict Option cannot be a replacement for either church or family, but must instead be a contextually sensitive way to support the daily life of the Christian church, the Christian family, and the Christian individual.

Turning the Home from Mere Shelter to Refuge

As you point out in TBO, the physical is not bad. Heathens and heretics of all stripes and degrees try to perpetuate this mistaken notion. God created the physical, explicitly declared that the physical was good, intervened in physical history, became physically human, triumphed over physical death, ascended physically, and promises us physical resurrection. What is more, it is in the physical that God interacts with us: through physical bread and wine, through physical water, and through physical words of human language.

God created us as physical beings, living in a creation based upon light and matter and a linear timeline. God does not expect us to transcend the physical and approach him through some metaphysical means. Rather, God meets us in the physical. He demands this: “No man comes to the father but by me.”, says the physical God-man Jesus. And he teaches us to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, not “Let us transcend earth to do your will in heaven”.

Part of what orthodox Christians must do is to embrace the physical in their sanctified lives. You correctly point out that liturgy and sacraments are a central aspect of this. Physical space can be important too, both in corporate worship and in private life.

Christians should consecrate and set aside as holy their personal physical spaces, starting with their homes.

Every Christian head of household should pray a prayer like this:

Heavenly Father, you give us every good gift: chiefly salvation and new life in you, but also material provisions to sustain us and satisfy our desires. Even your Son, our Lord, Jesus did not have a place to lay his head, yet you have seen fit to entrust to us this home, a place of shelter and comfort.

We consecrate this home to you. Let it be for us who live here and all who enter a place of peace and safety, and a place in which you are honored in all things. In this place let faith be strengthened and wisdom gained that we may be equipped to serve you faithfully all our days.

In this home may we grow in love for you and love for one another. Let us who live here live as those called from darkness into light, and let the light of Christ shine from us that those around us would receive your blessings through us.

In this home let us continually live repentant lives and receive your forgiveness, and let us freely forgive all those in our lives—especially those that dwell in this home.

Strengthen and sustain us in the faith with every good gift. Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Lead us to desire always to do your will, and grant us wisdom to know how to lovingly serve you in all things. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Not only will God answer such a prayer, but praying it declares for the entire family that this house is set aside as consecrated. This house (or apartment, or dorm room, or whatever the space may be) may be in the midst of other similar houses that look the same from the outside—but inside those other houses may live those that serve not the Lord but rather live to gratify their own sinful flesh. This house is intentionally different. This house is intentionally placed under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Those that live in this house will intentionally live differently—not as fearful, isolated, cloistered individuals hiding until the second coming of Christ, but rather as bold and vibrant followers of Jesus intentionally serving him and loving those within this house and outside it.

No longer is this house just a real estate asset with a mortgage or rent payment with square footage to be filled with consumer-satiating stuff, but this house is a refuge—a convent or abbey of sorts—in which the faithful live out the sanctified lives to which they have been called.

The individuals in this house live differently, not due to harsh legalism, but because they recognize that they are living in the family of God, in the presence of the great cloud of witnesses of the saints that have gone before.

Declaring this simple consecration provides a scriptural baseline for exhortation and encouragement for all who live and enter this house. No longer is correction based on an individualistic morality of “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”, but rather it is based on scripture: “This house is consecrated to the Lord, and he tells us this is how we are to live.”

Complaints of “He/she/you did or said X” can be met with “Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins, and in this house we strive to forgive one another as he forgave us.”

This simple consecration is not a detailed “rule” for a monastic order, but it does at least provide a scriptural foundation on which catechesis, prayer, exhortation, love, forgiveness, study, and service can flourish. In such a house the driving factor is not personal gratification, but rather understanding of God’s revealed will for our lives.

Establishing Order within the Refuge

Christian freedom provides a wide range of possible activities, responsibilities, commitments and the like. Scheduling and managing conflict between these can be challenging, and no rigid one-size-fits-all approach will work consistently.
Nonetheless, the Christian life should have a rhythm to it that in large part is framed by the church.

At a minimum, the Christian household should receive God’s gifts of faith, forgiveness, fellowship, and teaching each Sunday by attending worship (what we Lutherans prefer to call “divine service”, for in it God serves us by strengthening our faith and forgiving our sins through His Word and Sacraments). The point of orthodox Christian worship is not to be entertained, or even to be intellectually or emotionally stimulated. Rather, the point of orthodox Christian worship is to confess our sins, receive absolution, hear God’s word, receive his supernatural gifts of faith and forgiveness through the sacraments, and to rejoice in our risen Lord and Savior.

Liturgical worship helps ensure that these things happen. The liturgy is merely God’s word spoken, received and confessed. The liturgy keeps our eyes focused on Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, and ties us into the great cloud of witnesses of all saints in all times and in all places.

Christian worship is for the body of believers, and is not primarily a “seeker-sensitive” opportunity to try to make the stumbling block of Christ attractive to the world that should hate us and the gospel we proclaim. To any Christian who attends a church in which Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins is not explicitly central every Sunday, or in which attracting the lost is placed above feeding the sheep, I would say, “Find a different church, for the one you are in is not an orthodox Christian church.”

Participation in weekly divine service (corporate worship) should be an imperative for every member of the household. This goes a long way to establishing an order or structure to the life of the household.

If the church offers a Sunday scriptural Bible study or Sunday School, the family should participate in these as well, assuming that they are scripturally Christ-focused.

Beyond that, orthodox Christian churches that retain the liturgy also live out the church year. This means that the seasons of the year, as well as even the appointed lectionary readings, provide a pattern for corporate worship that can be extended into the home. In-home reading and study of the appointed readings—either in advance of or subsequent to the Sunday on which they are read—can be a tremendous blessing. There could be multiple ways of doing this collectively as a family, or as individual family members.

The penitential seasons of Advent and Lent should provide additional opportunities for prayer together. Many orthodox churches will provide mid-week vesper services during these seasons. The household should strive to attend these if at all possible. If for some reason this is not possible, the household should at a minimum set aside a time during the week to pray the vespers and read a reading together.

Prayers at mealtime should be offered. This may be a time to offer other intercessory prayers, but at a minimum acknowledging that it is God who gives us our food and praying that it would strengthen us for service of him reinforces a right understanding of God as provider and us as receivers of his blessings.

It perhaps goes without saying (but in modern-day American Christianity perhaps not), each family member should be baptized as soon as is possible. Baptism is instituted as a means through which God works to impart faith and forgiveness of sins, and binds the baptized to the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Baptism is a supernatural work of God, and not primarily a public proclamation of an individual’s decision…or so says most of historical orthodox Christianity.)

As the church offers instruction and some sort of a rite of Confirmation, each family member that is of the appropriate age should undertake these.

Every Christian family should at a minimum follow this simple “order”.

Additional Opportunistic Elements of Order within the Refuge

Beyond that, there is much more that can be done throughout the week at the discretion of the family.

For example, nightly prayer—especially with young children before bed—is beneficial.

I have found in my experience as a father of two (now age 23 and 15) that it is challenging with older children to find a time and a manner in which to pray together. This is probably a failing on my part: I can envision that greater focus could lead to an ongoing shared time of devotion and prayer each day. Pragmatically, with diverse schedules of activities, homework, sleep schedules, and other commitments, I have not found it possible to adhere to such a regular time of shared devotion and prayer.

Parenting styles (and personalities and flaws) factor into some aspects of intentional prayer and devotion time. Adolescents are often withdrawn and reluctant to engage in verbal communication about even things that interest them. To force such adolescents to engage verbally in shared devotion and prayer can in my opinion lead to resentment and a trite “going through the motions”. I am one to want my children to do the right thing—not necessarily to do what I tell them because I said so. Forced awkward interactions, even if well-intentioned, seem to me to run the risk of doing more harm than good. That said, other parents may have better success in incorporating an intentional shared time of devotion and prayer into the daily life of the family.

Intentional service projects, Bible studies, Bible reading plans, and more can all be part of a Christian family’s life together. But pragmatically, sometimes these are not possible to engage in, for a variety of reasons. Do what is possible and helpful, and trust in the grace of God for what is not.

Even where group devotions, prayers, or activities are not possible within the family, individual family members can study and pray—and in so doing, model a healthy Christian life, and transparently share insights and concerns.

Even reading and sharing the daily news from a Christian perspective can lead to fruitful discussion and edification. If Christians are being persecuted, or morals are being disregarded, or wars or violence is under way—sharing these things with the family, praying for those affected, praying for peace and protection within this house are all good ways to form a Christian perspective on the darkness of the sinful world around us.

Answer questions honestly and thoughtfully—making the most of every teachable moment. Don’t worry so much about trying to awkwardly cram unasked for knowledge or teaching into the heads and hearts of family members.

Find ways to serve other individuals or the church—and involve family members as appropriate. Is someone in the community in financial need? Share as you are able—in view of the family members if possible, followed by prayer for the individual in need as possible. Can you do some undone task that you come across—perhaps as simple as retrieving trashcans from the street at church or for a neighbor? Pick up a piece of trash? Make an effort to do what needs to be done without being asked? Do so, and in so doing demonstrate generous and compassionate Christian living.

Commit it to the Lord

Speaking as an orthodox Christian father who has striven to lead his household well, I often (if not usually) feel that I have failed my family—that I should have done more, done better, said more, not said as much…or whatever other fault troubles my conscience.

Confess your failings to the Lord. Pray not only for your forgiveness, but pray that your failings would not impair the growth of faith and love in your children and spouse. Pray that the Lord would show his love, compassion, and providence through you despite your failings.

In the end, all good things come from the hand of God—and not from our effort. We must trust that this is true of even spiritual growth and formation in members of our family.

My daughter, now 23, lives several thousand miles away from me. As far as I know, she is living a godly life. But is her life ordered around the cross? Is Sunday worship a central part of her week? Does her lifestyle reflect the love and discipline that Christ would have her show? I don’t know. All I can do is remember her baptism, trust in the promises of God, and pray that the Spirit would continually work in her life to strengthen her faith and empower her to live a godly life.

I hope that her time living in my household has left a positive imprint on her life. But I can do no other than trust the Holy Spirit to care for her as one of his own.

Even with my high-school aged son who still lives at home, I must commit his life to the Lord. I remember his baptism. I bring him to Sunday worship and Bible Study regularly. I have him enrolled in a quality Christian school. I try to openly share things that are important to me and that have been important to our family for generations past. I try to manifest my love for him, and to let him see the way I love my wife and others in our life. Is there more that I could do or should have done? Probably so. But I trust God to work in him the faith and love that flows from his life as a baptized child of God.

I pray for the future spouses of my children—even if they are not yet known. I pray that God would work faith in them, that he would keep them in purity, and that one day he would unite them in marriage to my children in a lifelong bond of blessing.

For the health and life of my wife—I pray that God would keep her and preserve her, and lead her to serve and honor him in all things. I praise him for giving her to me, and pray that I would be a loving and faithful husband to her.

Do I make a big deal out of these prayers, or even share them with my family? No, I do not. There is value to praying together, and in modeling an active prayer life. But there is also value in praying in secret as our Lord commanded us.

In short, God is the one who provides for us faith and provision. At best I am but a means through which he does so. May God bless people, especially my family, through me, and may I not be a stumbling block to any. But I can do no other than rely on his grace and providence. As Luther wrote in his final written words, “We are beggars, this is true.”

Expanding the Community

Beyond the family there are numerous ways to intentionally broaden the Christian community—both in ways that build upon community within the local congregation, and in ways that embrace geography over church membership.

There are so many possibilities it is hard (and probably not necessary) to organize them and present them here.

But what is important is that all of these must firmly be rooted in Christ’s redemptive work, and must be inclusive of the family in some way.

The modern western Church is galloping towards ever greater fragmentation. I recently received a postcard (addressed to my young adult daughter) from a new church that is being planted by a local evangelical church. It says:

Summit is Launching. A new church service hosted by Crossline young adults. We’re a community of people in our 20’s and early 30’s seeking to follow Jesus. Summit is gathering to explore real questions and find real answers. Join us for authentic community, powerful worship and relevant teaching. Childcare provided from infant – 5 years old.

Somehow I don’t see how singling out people in their 20’s and early 30’s, and then taking their children away from them, results in “authentic community”. Actually, everything about this seems to me to decimate authentic community—it rails against the family as a unit, it rails against the church being for all people of all ages, it rails against the church’s lifelong relevance, and more.

Instead of ageist slicing and dicing of the body of believers based on demographic categories, real “authentic” community is built by common confession of sins and confession of faith at the foot of the cross.

The gospel is inherently relevant, as “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Relevant teaching” that is not of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins is at best irrelevant.

On the other hand, flowing from a common confession of sins and a common confession of faith, the church can engage in corporate prayer. These prayer requests can be prayed for in families, and by individuals. The Church, the family, and individuals can then intentionally seek out both structured and unstructured ways to be conduits of provision to those in need.

Summary

I may have failed, but what I have attempted to do here is to paint a picture of how Christ’s redemptive work is central to the living of the repentant sanctified life, how the Church’s Word and Sacrament ministry can remain central within a congregation, how the congregation’s Word and Sacrament ministry can be retained as central within the family, how the family can be a God-ordained Christian community, and how some very simple pragmatic steps can establish a framework for this family to grow into an even more vibrant Christian community.

I echo your concerns about the increasing hostility towards the Gospel in the culture, but temper this with a reminder that the world has always hated the church…even if the church has at times been too preoccupied or deluded to remember this.

I echo your call-to-arms for the living of authentically orthodox Christian lives even in the face of growing hostility, but want to take care that God-ordained church and family remain central to the Christian life.

I echo your desire for radical living of the Christian life, but think that there are some simple non-daunting steps that can be taken within the family to begin movement in that direction.

I echo your embrace of the liturgy and the sacraments, but I want to underscore that these are about Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

I echo your distress over the state of so-called “christianity” in the west, but I dare going so far as to suggest that if the so-called ”church” is not focused on proclamation of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins through Word and Sacrament, that it is not really the orthodox Christian Church at all.

Thank you again for writing The Benedict Option, and for providing us with a call-to-arms and some specific points to ponder and discuss as we seek to live out lives in keeping with repentance even in the face of cultural degradation. May God’s love and grace keep us in the one true faith unto life everlasting.

Your brother in Christ,

David Rueter
drueter@assyst.com

Eighth-Day Living: The Sanctified Life

Sin is indeed troubling. Whether we consider sin as a nature that sets us in opposition to God’s holy nature, or as acts that are detestable to a righteously vengeful God, or as that which God has sacrificed his own Son to overcome, sin is counter to God’s nature, his demands, his work, and his love.

As God’s baptized children, we dare not treat sin with a caviler attitude that in some gospel reductionist fashion supposes that sin does not matter, or that God’s holy law doesn’t apply to us. Willfully persisting in sin, or refusing to identify and confess sin in our life is at odds with our new nature in Christ, and is really at odds with the person and work of Christ who bled and died to overcome sin.

This is easier said than done, for it is often hard to know what to do…or even to know how active and intentional of a role I ought to play in my sanctified life.

Stuck in the Conflict

We are stuck in the tension that is succinctly summarized as simul justi et pecator, simultaneously saint and sinner. As one such conflicted creature, I along with Paul in Romans 7 say “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Yes, it must be the work of God through Jesus that delivers us—both from the eternal punishment that we deserve, and from this temporal struggle of our old Adam continually waging war on our new nature in Christ.

What to do?

What then should I do? Confess. Receive absolution. Remember my baptism. Receive the Lord’s Supper. Pray. Study scripture. Fellowship with others in the body of the church. Love my neighbor. Yes, absolutely, I gladly do all of these things, and embrace the necessity and efficacy of doing so.

But what then should I do? Is re-asking this question an indication that I don’t trust God to accomplish his will through the means he provides? Would it be better to ignore my ongoing condition of simul justi et pecator, perhaps pretending either that sin does not matter, or that I don’t sin? Or is this whole line of thought simply the narcissistic curving in on one’s self that our human nature seems to crave?

Or to put this another way, what ought my outlook be as I live out my life in Christ? What is sanctification all about? What is my role in sanctified living, and in particular, what is the role of my volition? Am I to actively struggle against my sinful nature, or am I to passively trust that the Holy Spirit will do his thing and accomplish his will in me?

There are many different ways we can answer this line of questions, and many different errors we can fall into in trying to embrace a single succinct answer. Alas, both-and is not conducive to the kind of focus we crave for the doing that lies before us in our temporal lives.

Is the Christian life “do”, or is it “be”? If both, is it “Do, be, do, be, do”, or is It “Be, do, be, do, be”? Does our doing flow from being, or does our being flow from doing? Here too, there are many godly answers to these questions, and many opportunities for error as well. Being and doing are both essential to the human experience, and are both integral parts of our sanctified lives. More than that, doing and being are interrelated and intertwined in a way that makes causation difficult if not impossible to determine.

Focused Steps

How then can I find clarity as to the steps that I ought to take when I get out of bed in the morning? The urgency of our vocations provides us with practical answers to this: I can simply work at all the things that my callings set before me to do. This is good, but is not completely satisfying. This still does not address the “do, be” versus “be, do” question. This still does not give me direction as to the role of my volition in the mortification of my flesh and the pursuit of (or the passive waiting for) my sanctified life in Christ.

Spiritual disciplines could be of value, but they can also teeter on the brink of pietism and monasticism. Instilling urgency in the form of spiritual habits can, like the urgency of our vocations, keep us busy in the undertaking of godly work. But chasing after even godly busyness may be little more than a distraction from answering the question of what is my outlook on my sanctified life in Christ.

Jesus’ Answer

I think that Jesus gave us the answer to the question of sanctified living. His answer can break the recursive pondering of “do/be” “be/do”, and can end the breakneck pursuit of vocational and spiritual urgency for the sake of distraction. Jesus’ answer can fill us with his peace, while granting us joyful desire to labor in service to his kingdom and our neighbor.

What is Jesus’ answer of which I speak? Jesus gives us his answer is in the parable of the prodigal son. More precisely, it is after the end of the story: the morning after. His answer is his illustration of the restored prodigal waking up to new life on the next day, the eighth day.

The Restored Prodigal

Saved from death, hunger and shame, the restored prodigal is back. He is back in his father’s house, under his father’s care. But beyond that, he is back in his role of trusted son: he has the father’s ring on his finger, and empowered to do the work of the father’s business.

Consider what it is like to wake up as the restored prodigal the morning after the homecoming feast! The past lies behind. I am back. Now what?

There are many wrong answers to this question:

  • I could begin packing my bags and demanding money to head back out into riotous living, heedless of my restoration.
  • I could invite the whores and dubious friends I have encountered in my wanderings to come over to dad’s house for a raging party.
  • I could go further aggravate my brother by flaunting what I got away with.
  • I could sit around and do nothing but eat and drink leftovers from last night’s fatted calf celebration.
  • I could lord my position over the father’s servants, and impose upon them to make me comfortable in my idleness.
  • I could say to my father, “Dad, thanks for your help. I’ll prove myself to you and show you I’m not just a screw-up.”, which might sound good at first, but in reality, denies both the fact that I am a screw-up, and that dad has already restored me and has nothing for me to prove.
  • I could say to my father, “Thanks, Dad. Don’t worry: I’ll repay you for everything.”, which is both hubris and a denigration of the father’s sacrifice for my restoration. I can’t ever repay him—nor does the father want me to try to do so.

…and so on. There are many, many bad things that I as the restored prodigal could set out to do.

Eighth Day Living

Instead, I as the restored prodigal on the morning after, on the 8th day, can begin my work as the father’s restored son. I can work diligently at the father’s business at hand—making sound decisions with the authority of the ring the father gave me. I can be a good steward of the father’s resources, and work confidently and compassionately to use them to accomplish the father’s will.

I have freedom—not to be wicked, not to be idle, and not to pridefully self-promote, but rather to live and work diligently, without worry or want. I am free to use the skills and gifts and experience that I have to do the father’s will, without looking back over my shoulder to be burdened once again by my past wicked and wasteful living.

I am not prideful, but I am confident in my standing in the father’s household and in my role in the father’s business. I trust that I am in my rightful place—not because of my merit, but because of the father’s declaration.

I have no desire to leave the father’s house, or to squander his assets, or to be idle. I want only to be and do (or do and be) what I am: the father’s beloved son, with full standing within the household.

When viewed from this angle, do/be, be/do, volition, causation, willful sinning, legalism, moralism, pietism and monasticism all melt away. I am who I am—the restored prodigal, the beloved son of the father, with nothing to prove and nothing to repay.

What do restored prodigals do, and what is their motivation? Exactly the same thing as good sons living faithfully in the father’s household…for that is what we are.

Sinful Failings

Will I err, or even shirk my responsibilities at times, or at times willfully pursue my lusts instead of the father’s will? Unfortunately, yes I will. But now such failings—such sin—is not part of an effort to run away from the father’s house. Such sin does not endanger expulsion from the father’s house, but neither is it something that is acceptable to the father—or to me as his restored son.

Yes, I will use my volition, my wisdom, my experience, and everything at my disposal to avoid sinful failings—because sinful failings have no place in the father’s house. My motivation is neither fear of the father’s wrath, nor arrogant self-justifying pride. I just want to live in the father’s house, under his continual care, faithfully living as that which he declared me to be: his beloved, fully-restored son.

And as further comfort, I know that the providence of the father, the security of his house, and the accomplishment of his will are eternal certainties that not even my sinful failings can thwart.

Avoiding Errors

This approach to eighth-day living of our sanctified lives in Christ helps avoid many errors that may otherwise ensnare us:

  • Hedonistic antinomianism
  • Selfish idleness
  • Prideful self-righteousness
  • Dishonest perfectionism
  • Purpose-driven restlessness
  • Moralism
  • Third-use denial
  • Gnosticism
  • Isolationism
  • Gospel reductionism
  • Worldly social justice
  • Meaningless busyness

…and many more

That is to say, that these errors are best overcome not by the strivings of either scholasticism or pietism, but are instead overcome or even rendered absurd by simply living on this eighth day as the restored prodigal in the father’s house.

Eighth Day Stewardship

Some years ago Microsoft ran a successful ad campaign with a slogan of “Where do you want to go today?”, implying that Microsoft would be able to help get you there. As a restored prodigal living in the father’s house, I can ask myself this same question.

No, I am not going to leave the father’s house. But in terms of my actions and focus, what is it that I want to do today, on this eighth day? What needs to be done? What specific resources are at my disposal? What are my callings? What would a good son do in this situation?

There is great abundance in the father’s house, and he has given me charge over many gifts. There is great freedom for me to pursue what I want to pursue, and to “go” where I want to “go” today.

In thinking about where I will go today, my motivation is not selfish gain, or wickedness, or sloth. But rather, in view of my specific context and my brothers around me, what can I do as a good son today? The father’s house will stand—with or without my efforts—but I want to do whatever I can as a good son to accomplish the father’s purposes. I want to live as a good steward of all he has placed in my care.

Onward

As I begin my day, it is not about me or my need to prove myself to the father. Rather, it is all about the father’s work, and what he has entrusted to me as his restored son. And so now I go…to faithfully live out the sanctified life he has given me on this and every eighth day, living ever under his graceful and abundant providence.

“Christian” is not an Adjective

Jesus wasn’t very “Christian”.

Language matters. The words we use and the way in which we use them convey meaning: words not only reflect the ideas and meanings we have in our heads, but words convey those ideas and meanings to others.

It is through language that ideas and culture evolves in groups and societies. If we hear the words enough times we eventually come to believe those words. This is why marketing and advertising work: if we are continually hearing that a product is good and that everyone loves it, we generally come to accept this as true. In the same way, when the news media says the same thing over and over, we generally come to accept this as true as well.

Language can be used intentionally to shape perceptions and opinions.  What today we call “political correctness” really refers to using language to shift and reinforce perceptions and opinions. We see this concept at work in the differences between “undocumented worker” and “illegal alien”, between “physically challenged” and “handicapped”, and many other such phrases.

But through this same power, imprecise language can bring about unintentional perceptions and opinions. I would argue that using the word “Christian” as an adjective is one such example.

Originally the word “Christian” was a noun. It was first used in Antioch in ancient Greece as a label for the followers of Jesus Christ. (Acts 11:26) The word literally meant “little Christs”, probably in a derogatory sense. That is, people were said to be “Christians” if they believed and followed what Jesus taught.

Today, “Christian” is often used as an adjective that generally means little more than “nice”, or “compassionate”. For example, someone might say, “That wasn’t a very Christian thing to say.” Or worse, it can mean something of or pertaining to a perceived subculture, as in “Christian bookstore”, “Christian music”, or “Christian bumper sticker”.

The use of “Christian” as an adjective has done much harm. By simply using the word “Christian” in this way we have grown to accept that Christianity is focused on the attributes people think of when they hear the adjective “Christian”: nice, compassionate, law-abiding, generous, narrow-minded, judgmental…or whatever other attributes one might want to add to the list.

The phrase “Christian church” ought not to mean “a church that has the attributes that we associate with Christian”, but rather should refer to a gathering of people who are in fact believers and followers of Christ.

Christian is a noun, not an adjective.

Christianity is not about “Christian” behavior, nor about being part of a “Christian” subculture.

Instead, Christianity is about Christ, the almighty God who became human with flesh and bones so that he might live a perfect life for us, be put to death as punishment for our sinful condition, and be raised back to life to prove that he succeeded in defeating sin, death and the devil. Christianity is about God’s doing, and not about our doing.

I am a person who trusts in and follows Christ. I have been baptized into Christ’s death, so just as he was raised from the dead I too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4) I am a Christian because God made me one through faith and baptism. I am a Christian because God gave me Christ’s perfect righteousness even though I had no merit on my own. I am a Christian because God has declared that I have eternal life together with all the saints in heaven.

If you were to examine my life, you would likely find that I am not very “Christian”. I do things (and fail to do things) that make my actions inconsistent with what people consider to be the “Christian” way to live…whatever that means.

Much of my not-so-very-Christian life stems from the fact that I have been a sinful human since before birth…and consequently I do things that are contrary to God’s law. I confess and repent of my sin, and trust that Christ’s perfection has been given to me through faith. I stand before God as his restored prodigal son, as one who deserves nothing but has been given everything.

Some of my not-so-very-Christian life is due to the fact that what people think of as being “Christian” really has nothing to do with Christianity, but is instead about some sham veneer of niceness and respectability. That I don’t live up to what people think of as being “Christian” should not trouble me, for even Jesus didn’t live up to these kinds of expectations: Jesus said of himself:

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Matthew 11:19)

Jesus wasn’t very Christian: he did not live up to society’s suppositions of what he ought to do.

If I am a Christian, a follower of Christ, than chances are that I won’t be very “Christian” either.

Much of the so-called “Christian church” has gotten confused on this distinction as well. Much of the church is running around trying to get people to be more “Christian”. Doing so is a pointless exercise that does more harm than good.

People’s behavior reflects what is in their heart. (Mark 7:21) The church is to be about preaching that Christ was crucified for the forgiveness of sins, calling people to repentance and faith, baptizing them, and teaching them that Christ’s perfection is theirs through faith. The changing of people’s hearts is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit, and he does this work exclusively through the preaching of Christ crucified.

Even if the church could successfully nag, coerce or entice people into changing behavior (which it cannot) this would be of no spiritual value: without Christ’s forgiveness and imputed righteousness even such a “changed” person stands before God as a lost and condemned sinner.

By focusing on outward appearances and behaviors instead of Christ crucified, the church deprives people of the one thing they need (Christ) and instead tries to provide them with misplaced faith in themselves and their ability to change.

The word “Christian” is a noun, and not an adjective. The mission of the church must be to proclaim Christ crucified and thereby make disciples—not to make people more “Christian”.

God’s Heart

King David was “a man after God’s own heart”. 1 Samuel 13:14

In 2 Samuel 18 we see a glimpse into that heart.

David’s reign as king was clearly of God–God chose him out of obscurity, gave him his kingship, gave him success against his enemies and affirmed his leadership.

David loved his son Absalom. When Absalom led the rebellion against David to take his throne, David had a difficult conflict: God wanted him to reign, but he wanted no harm to come to Absalom.

David had to take action for the sake of the kingdom and to follow God’s will.

Yet despite Absalom’s treasonous plans against David, David loved his son and wanted good things for him. It would have been easy (and just) if he would have ordered Absalom to be killed–but instead he ordered his military officers to “deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom”. 2 Samuel 18:5

In this story, sadly David was not able to protect his son from the consequences of his sin: David’s officer killed Absalom against David’s direct orders. 2 Samuel 18:14

When David learned of Absalom’s death David was very sad, and said “Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Samuel 18:33

So what is God’s heart like? God must reign, for the good of his creation. We his children sinned because he wanted to be like God (i.e. take God’s place on his throne). Genesis 3:5

Yet despite our treasonous plans against God, God loved His children and wanted good things for them. It would have been easy (and just) if He would have ordered them to be killed–but instead he acted in accord with His heart: He actually did die instead of His children.

Like David, God was able to quell the rebellion and remain in control for the good of his kingdom. Unlike David, God was able to do what David was unable to do: He saved His beloved children by sacrificing His own life.

Love in spite of treacherous rebellion, self-sacrifice to preserve relationship with wayward children, faithful leadership for the good of subjects despite adversity: this is the heart of God.

 

Written by David Rueter August 14, 2006

Who is my Accuser?

Who is my Accuser? (Part 1)

John 5:22-24
Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.  “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

One picture of a particular “theory” of atonement is that of God the judge looking down at sinful man, ready to pronounce judgement, and Jesus interposing himself and taking our punishment instead.

While this picture can be helpful in understanding that God is both just and loving, and understanding how Jesus’ suffering brought about our forgiveness, there are some problems with this image.

First of all, since it treats God the Father and Jesus as separate entities, it does not do a great job of embracing the unity of the Trinity.

But perhaps worse, this illustration leads us to think that the Father is still out to punish us, and that it’s only Jesus holding back his wrath.  This is not the case at all.

In John 5:22 Jesus clearly tells us that the Father has entrusted all judgement to the Son.  He says directly that the Father judges no one.

We know Jesus was compassionate and loving.  More than that, We know that Jesus endured agony and separation from God, and  gave his very life for us.

If it is this same Jesus to whom has been entrusted all judgement, what are the implications to us?  Is the compassionate and loving Jesus going to keep record of our sins and dole out punishment?  Is Jesus who suffered death for us going to throw the benefit of is agonizing work out the window so that he can strike us down from his judgement seat?

Of course not.  Jesus died for us, and rose triumphant over sin.  He loves us completely, and wants us to receive the benefit of his redemptive work.

Is Jesus going to cast down judgement on us Christians because of our sins and shortcomings?  We don’t even need to guess at the answer to this question.  In John 5:24 Jesus specifically says “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

There you have it.  God the Father isn’t in the business of judging:  that is Jesus’ job to do.  And Jesus has already cast his judgement on me:  I have heard Jesus word, and I believe the Father who sent him to die for me.  Jesus, aka the judge, has found me, the defendent…not guilty.  The verdict:  I have eternal life.  I have crossed over from death to life.

Praise God!

So… who is now my accuser?  Any takers?  Does anyone want to accuse me now that the one rightful judge has already pronounced his verdict?  Anyone?

I thought not.  There is none to accuse me.  And without an accuser…I am free!

Remember The Sabbath

Have you ever felt confused by the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”?

Is this a law for us to keep? Do we keep this commandment by attending church on Sunday (instead of Saturday)? What does it mean to remember the Sabbath? Why is this even important to God?

I kind of understand God’s rationale behind the other commandments—such as “Do not commit murder”, or even “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” But keeping the Sabbath? It seems kind of odd to have this seemingly “little” rule receive so much attention, and to be on par with the other 9 commandments.

And then, to add to the confusion, Jesus comes along in several stories (like Luke 6:6 and other places) doing “work” like healing, plucking grain and the like on the Sabbath—and thereby clearly engaging in activities that at least the experts in Jewish law thought were prohibited by the 3rd commandment.

We’ve probably heard how the Jews (perhaps out of good intentions, or perhaps to perpetuate a sense of self righteous elitism) enacted stricter laws that went beyond what God actually commanded. That makes sense, but does not seem to shed much light on the question, “What exactly IS it that God is commanding about the Sabbath?”

Being good Lutherans we could open Luther’s Small Catechism and read “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” OK, holding God’s Word as sacred, and hearing and learning it is good stuff—and (hopefully) we do this at Sunday morning worship.

But Exodus 20:8 seems pretty specific to me: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

I’m not saying that Luther is wrong, or misses the point or anything like that. I’m not saying that the editors of the 1943 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism were off track with questions and answers such as:

Q: “Did God command us Christians to observe any day?” A: “God did not command us Christians to observe any day.”

… and then providing references to back this up.

Romans 14:5-6 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.

Galatians 4:9-11 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

But I’ve always had a feeling that God’s command about the Sabbath had something more to it than just “take some time, whenever it is, to worship”, especially when I don’t see much of what we take for granted in public Christian worship described in Old Testament Israel.

Recently as I puzzled over the many questions I’ve had about the 3rd Commandment I was blessed with a glimmer of insight.

First, I read again the account from Genesis 2:1 of the original Sabbath day: “And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

Was God resting because he was tired? Somehow, I don’t think the omnipotent God gets tired.

Maybe I had been misunderstanding the word “rest”. Maybe the word “rest” as used in Genesis isn’t synonymous with “recuperate” or “rejuvenate”. So, lacking Hebrew linguistic skills, I clicked on the word “rest” (in Genesis 2:1) on my Pocket PC to pull up the Strong’s concordance information, and found the word “shaboath” had definitions like:

To cease, desist, brought to an end

What if God “rested” in the sense that he stopped working?

And why did he stop? Not because he was tired, but because his work was done. Creation was GOOD. Creation was complete.

Fast forward a few centuries to the hungry children of Israel in the desert. Our loving God provided food (manna) for them to eat, but made it clear that they should gather only as much as they could eat in a day—for the rest would spoil. (Exodus 16:19-22) The Israelites, being humans (and good Jews) figured they could save up a bit for the future anyway. They tried it, and sure enough by morning “it bred worms and became foul.”

“and Moses was angry with them. And they gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.”

Deuteronomy 8:3 provides us with some commentary on this manna: “And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD

Manna was God’s direct providence and sustenance for Israel, but God used manna to teach trust in this providence and sustenance daily, continually. Very literally, the Israelites had to live with the knowledge that if God didn’t send the manna tomorrow morning, they would starve.

(On a side note, this is very much in the heart of what Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer when he said “Give us this day our daily bread.”—but I digress.)

So what does manna have to do with the Sabbath? Ah, the interesting exception to the “leave none of it to morning” rule was on the 6th day. On the 6th day, the Israelites were permitted to gather two days’ worth of food so they would have plenty to eat on the Sabbath.

Now it came about on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and old Moses, then he said to them, “This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul, nor was there any worm in it. And Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.” Exodus 16:22-26

God provided completely for the Israelites, even giving them surplus food to eat on the Sabbath.

So what’s the point? First, the Sabbath must have been important to God. But second, Israel is observing the Sabbath by “resting”—by being done with work—and enjoying and reflecting on the completeness of God’s providence.

Interestingly, Israel was commanded to “remember” (not observe) the Sabbath day, the Sabbath day in which God stopped working and recognized the completeness of his work.

Sabbath is a tribute to the completeness of God’s work. We honor the Sabbath when we remember that God created a perfect, “good” earth. We honor the Sabbath when we remember that God provides for us through his perfect completed work.

And what about for us Christians? Are we to remember the Sabbath day? Most certainly! We should remember God’s original Sabbath day, and the completeness of His work. And we have even more reason to do so:

When on the cross our Savior cried “It is finished” [John 19:30], God once again stopped his work, and acknowledged the completeness of that work. God’s creation had been redeemed, restored. When we Christians remember the Sabbath day, we remember the completeness of Christ’s work as well.

Armed with this understanding of Sabbath, other pieces then start dropping into place, like Hebrews 4:9-10:

There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.

And Jesus in Mark 2:27-28:

And He was saying to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

It’s not that Jesus removed the obligation to remember the Sabbath, it’s that he instructed us that the whole point of remembering the Sabbath is not to do something for God, but to remember that God has done it ALL for you!

And finally, the icing on the cake: By choosing Sunday as our day to remember the Sabbath, we celebrate Christ’s glorious resurrection on that first day of the week, the day we saw tangible proof of God’s redemptive work in Christ.

And at the same time, there is a notion of an “eighth day”: the first day of Adam’s life in the Garden of Eden, and the first day our new life in Christ in which we “rest” secure in God’s beautiful creation (and re-creation), relishing the completeness of God’s work, acknowledging his perfect providence for us, and savoring our newly restored relationship with our Eternal God.

May we ever remember the Sabbath day.

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things is wondrously reigning
And, as on wings of an eagle, uplifting, sustaining.
Have you not seen / All that is needful has been / Sent by His gracious ordaining?

Praise to the Lord, who will prosper your work and defend you;
Surely His goodness and mercy shall daily attend you.
Ponder anew / What the Almighty can do / As with His love He befriends you.

Amen.