In the World, Not Of It

lovingourcity

Through the twists and turns of life, God has brought me to work in a clinic for people who have limited access to healthcare in Collin County. Hundreds of families come through every month because life has hit them hard at some point or another.

In this rapidly growing metroplex, I see hidden, expansive pockets of poverty on a daily basis. My patients include the single mom working two jobs in the shadows of restaurant kitchens. They are the white collar worker who got laid off and hasn’t been able to land another job in the past year. They are the unseen employee working for 10 hour shifts without breaks or workers’ rights. They are enduring laborers on construction sites in the unforgiving summer Texas heat.

Recently, God kept bringing one story to mind – a patient who had a sore throat for an entire year. It turns out they had strep pharyngitis, which is easily diagnosed and treatable with penicillin. We live in a first-world country and a person in our affluent city had strep for an entire year. AN ENTIRE YEAR.

Over the past three weeks, I have been buzzing with indignant anger when God brings this story to mind, and God kept pushing me to write about it. My mind goes fuzzy when I want to remind myself of some key Bible verses that speak of raising up the poor but I realized God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t want us cherry picking through the living Word so we can justify our anger. He has already written an arc of a story that resonates and shakes of His unchanging feelings about injustice and oppression. He’s already been sitting with us in our mess since our fall from Paradise.

I’ve dug through all the reasons why my patient had strep throat for a year and found a mountain of seemingly unforgivable trespasses — to blame my patient for not trying harder, for their life choices, and every political/social/religious institution that failed them. Aren’t these our defense mechanisms when we want to pardon ourselves from listening to God in these complicated situations?

If we forget that we have all been a lost sinner in a desert place, shackled to chains of sin, we will all forget that we have been rescued by the grace and mercy that God freely offered us. With this spiritual amnesia, we will feel it appropriate to dangle our righteousness over those who have less than us. We will sit on our air conditioned, middle-to-upper class thrones and point fingers at everyone who has made a mistake, cheated on a test, crossed a border, stolen a candy bar, had a lustful thought, followed through with an abortion, acted in anger, saying that we know best about political rules and religious laws that keep society in check.

However, because God has rescued me from slavery AND the desert place AND death, numerous times over, I am called to a different life marked by grace, at the foot of HIS throne. HIS cross. My soul remembers love.

Then, my mind is jarred back into all that continues to bombard my mind throughout the whole day. News about suffering friends and family, injustice, death, oppression, shootings, wars, poverty here and abroad. 85% of the time my body is tired. My mind is battered. Weekly, my soul numbs out before it realizes it needs living water. I can go through an 8-hour clinic day checking lab results and prescriptions, treadmilling through the schedule of 30-minute clinic appointments without acknowledging God’s heartbeat in the person sitting across from me. How do we process and contain, grieve and feel, amidst the pressures we have to sustain throughout the day?

A mentor recently told me, “If we did what God wanted us to do for the day, we would have enough time. If we try to fit in everything we want to accomplish on our own along with what God wants us to accomplish, we’ll always run out of time.”

In the 15% of days when I actually rest in Jesus and only do what He calls me to, I can more readily engage in our culture with God’s Spirit and Power. I grasp the concept that our decisions, political opinions, theologies, and actions are not the end goal — rather, all of history and nature long to speak for God’s persistent story of love (Romans 8 comes to mind).

So I share the following tangible steps and encouragements as Gospel light amidst our daily struggle of sin in a fallen world.

Remember and confess

Remember that you were redeemed from the filth of sin, and that God continues to do so. Although we do not live in condemnation, we remember we have not earned any of what God has given us. Receive God’s dance of grace and mercy for yourself first, then you’ll have enough to give others.

Practice the Sabbath

Keep taking rest from all that is loud and unrelenting in the world for at least a 24-hour period every week. God might be telling you to pull back from constantly being plugged into the news or social media.

Prayer

However, God might be asking you to keep reading the news, bringing every headline to Him in those moments. When someone intercedes for me or when God reminds me to just BE with Him, it awakes a part of my soul that gives me sustenance for the next minute, the next hour, the next day. Keep that line of communication open with Jesus – even if it might include despair, grief, confusion, doubt. He has suffered it all and in seasons, He gives us new light through prayer.

My exhortation is that prayer doesn’t stop there. I believe God uses these prayers so that grace can spill out to the oppressed in our communities. As much as the world is spinning into an unsalvageable mess, Jesus’ death and resurrection proclaims that He has boundless amounts of love to salvage it. No question. It’s there already; we just have to be listening.

He is calling you out of apathy to serve the poor, the widow, the orphan.

He is asking you to pause and give a listening ear to a coworker who is oppressed in their own lives.

He is beckoning you to stop feeling condemnation for not ‘doing’ enough.

He is giving you the strength to fight apathy and learn compassion.

Every time we speak up for someone who is oppressed, love the unlovable, vote in an election, make the extra effort to pursue our spouses, or teach our children well, the world sees our missionality and an alternative to living in the ways of the world. Because of you, brothers and sisters, unbelievers see that God has an expansive heart for human beings, made in his image, in any given sociopolitical issue. They see that we are not apathetic and isolated just because we have an eternal heaven waiting for us. They see that our faith brings about hope for God’s kingdom here on Earth. They see that Jesus’ love for us begets more love.

A Journey Toward Sabbath

Journey To Sabbath

The monologue in my head goes like this when I read Exodus 20:8-11:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy;

(Me: Alrighty then, I go to church and get lunch sometimes with friends on Sunday, then take a nap. Sounds pretty holy to me.)

You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

(Me: All my work?!? My to-do list does not stop. I don’t think this is possible.)

You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates.

(Me: Not do ANY work?? But I have to do all the adulting to prepare for work on Monday. Also, I don’t have servants, or livestock, so…pass.)

For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day.

(Me: Even God rested on the seventh day? Oh. Maybe I should try this…but only when the to-do list dwindles, when I retire from working in the healthcare field, or when I get my own livestock. Someday…I’ll get to start a real Sabbath. Also, does watching Netflix count?)

First Step to Sabbath: Resistance

My first adult memory of the Sabbath was of Orthodox Jewish families walking to the temple in North Dallas. My friend told me that on Saturdays, those who practice Orthodox Judaism don’t drive on the Sabbath and even set timers for lights and stoves so they don’t have to do the work of turning them on that day. How quaint, I thought, how unrealistic for my modern life. Even a more watered down Sabbath is probably unattainable for me.

Second Step to Sabbath: Fatigue

So I proceeded like a happy clam, moving through my Sabbath-less weeks for great opportunities in ministry, building my marriage, keeping up with friends, advancing in my career. Sometimes my decisions were Spirit-led; other times, I would power through, no matter if God wanted me to or not. Finally, I hit an unforgiving wall called “burnout” at the end of 2016. Looking back, my version of burnout can be summed up by this Parker Palmer quote:

“Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.”

This stage of my life really wasn’t surprising because I have a habit of burnout anyway, trusty millennial that I am. Starting in my late adolescent years, I would burn out, then quit jobs or ministry roles that I initially fell in love with at a breakneck pace every two years. I needed to recover from it, but didn’t really know how. More small group meetings, more spiritual books, more memorization of Bible verses and less ministry roles? Six months into my search for restoration, a kind sister gently asked me, “When is the last time you took a Sabbath?” I fumbled for a halfhearted answer, not even knowing what a true Sabbath would like in my own personal life.

Third Step to Sabbath: Accepting God’s Grace

Through a sequence of God-orchestrated events, I stumbled onto a book – Emotionally Healthy Leadership by Peter Scazzero. Out of all the terrific insights this book had, I will always remember one quote about the precious seventh day of rest, in which “we are deeply loved by God for who we are, not what we do.” I kept soaking the sentence in over and over – it was the Gospel message for my empty, thirsty soul. In my work-driven world, it was difficult to believe, and even more difficult to accept for myself, but my dried out soul was drinking it up so desperately. “I am deeply loved by God for who I am, not what I do.”

Fourth Step to Sabbath: Taking Baby Steps

Miraculously, that sentence and the first half of Scazzero’s book snapped me into attention and my heart started longing for rest in Jesus, at least once every 7 days for an ENTIRE 24 hour period. I was relearning the Gospel (Isn’t that what faith walks are made of? Needing Gospel reminders/reshaping/relearning/resharing?). My first early attempts at a true Sabbath only consisted of a) choosing to do things that allowed me to delight in and rest in God and b) to not complete or add any tasks to my running to-do list. The first time I tried that, my heart nearly stopped. I had been so enamored by my lovely to-do list, I didn’t realized it had sneakily taken its place as my glorified ball and chain – essentially a mini-god. My brain started resisting again — Sabbath, I don’t like you.

In that first month of battling and arguing with God about the Sabbath, another friendly sister offered me Jesus’ words as respite.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

My heart opened up again to the idea, realizing it was no longer a concept of legalism. God gave us the Sabbath day for rest for our own good!

The second week I attempted the Sabbath, I prepared about 2 days in advance, taking care of all the priority items on my task list so I could rest well. My soul took in rest much more readily, armed with the verse from Mark about the Sabbath, and the whole day made me realize how my soul was so starved after so many years of ignoring rest. After that, I started craving rest in God’s Word in short spurts (aka. devotional time or daily office) throughout my weekdays, and God led me into an extended sabbatical from ministry for about two months after that. I had nothing to prove anymore – to myself or anyone else; I desired to honor God by releasing my control and receiving the abundance of life He had for me through the Sabbath.

At this point, I’m on my third month of Sabbath keeping. I still forget to take a Sabbath some weeks. My mind still wanders back to my to-do list. A couple times, I willingly decide to bypass my day of rest completely with plenty of ‘legitimate’ excuses. And yes, I do still take a nap most Sabbath days – sometimes two.

Brothers and sisters, I pray this restorative practice into your life. It’s countercultural and difficult to initiate, but God is always waiting with loving, open arms for you to step into his invitation of rest. If your heart is ready for the Sabbath, these questions might help:

What makes me feel restored?
What places or activities help me find true joy and delight in God?
Does my Sabbath involve unplugging from technology? Social media?
What are the biggest obstacles in the way of my Sabbath?