The Sabbath Reboot (Why Even Go To Church Part IX)

I used to feel utterly trapped by life until I got the hang of Sabbath. It’s not just a day off; it’s a different zone.

Shabbat Shalom by Lavott

Pastor and Author, Lynne Baab, learned the rythms of the Sabbath in the middle east, and brought them back to our crazed, work-idolizing culture. In “Sabbath Keeping,” she writes, “We need to refocus. Our rapid pace of life bears too much resemblance to a treadmill: constant activity that goes nowhere. We need to explore our motivations and goals. A day each week with built in reflection time goes a long way toward reclaiming our sense of direction…the more we practice it, the greater a privilege it becomes, the more essential it feels…”

Going to church is part of this rhythm; doing something that is all about God and nothing about our advancement is the first step in a weekly reboot that renews us. “Reboot” is defined as the process of shutting down and restarting a computer, for the purpose of discovering errors and reinitializing drivers and devices. Whenever I get into tech trouble and ask my husband, the IT guy, for help, he asks me if I’ve tried rebooting the computer. I would argue that humans need a reboot every week to prevent and fix our many malfunctions. It is, after all, built into the creation process, and included in the first set of instructions God gave people.

So why go to church on the Sabbath? Why not just stay in bed and eat cold pop tarts? Apparently the Sabbath only does its magic when we keep it ‘holy’, that is, separate in order to draw near to God. Church is enormously helpful with this. It does at least three things to help us with the reboot we so desperately need.

First, it gives us rest. I was never more aware of the restorative powers of a church service than when I had three little kids. I would check them into the church nursery, and stride, arms free, into church. I would sit in one place, uninterrupted, for over an hour, reveling in the quiet relief of not being needed. Years later, it is still good to sit down for a rest, if only from my own self-focus.

Second, it helps to ground us in gratitude. Whole books have been written on the power of gratitude. The practice of singing praise and worship songs gets us off ourselves and into a posture of thankfulness to God for all things good and true. So, all week long I’m thinking about what needs to be cleaned and organized in my house and yard, but on Sunday, I sit in a comfy chair and thank God that I have a house with furniture and a yard with flowers. I just enjoy them, and realize what a huge gift they are.

Third, a church service helps us to take in energy. Many of us spend most of our lives pouring out energy, in jobs, in caregiving, in maintaining our stuff. In a church service, we’re on the receiving end of truth and beauty and inspiration. (If not, find another church.) We need that so much. It renews us to a point where we can spend the rest of the Sabbath well. It gives us a beginning for reflection, for prayer, for further study.

Ironically, I think I’m more productive in these years since I’ve kept a Sabbath. Every week there is new insight, new energy, new faith and new love. And I always know that in six days or less, I can reboot again!

So We Don’t Forget (Why Even Go to Church Part VIII)

At a last meal with his followers, before Jesus let himself get killed, he gave some final instructions: Love each other, serve each other, pray together, abide in Him, and eat and drink together in remembrance of him. You could argue that the first four instructions don’t need any organized religion, but the last one kind of does. We need to be organized enough, at least, to do this eating and drinking ritual.

File:Sandro Botticelli - The Last Communion of St Jerome (detail) - WGA2834.jpgSo, the eighth reason to go to church in this series of ten, is that we need to get together to eat bread and drink wine (or something close) to remember Jesus.

Rituals drive truth deep into our beings, so Jesus gave us a ritual to repeat till his return, to ground us in the transforming truth that he died for us. He said the bread was his body, the wine his blood (Matthew 26:26-28.) He was taking all our brokenness and evil upon himself and dying to show that God not only hates what is wrong, he also takes the rap for it. (1 Peter 2:24.)

When we take in that truth (eat it and drink it) we let God save us.

That’s why we have those little chunks of bread (or wafers) in church. We’re buying in to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We’re staking our lives on the reality that these things really happened.

It must be something God takes pretty seriously because Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians that the reason they were experiencing illness and early death was that they were abusing the ritual. They were using the time to pig out and be socially exclusive. Our culture doesn’t do that with communion, but some of us do gut the power of it by just going through the motions. Maybe we’re looking at what people are wearing as they file past us, or planning our pizza toppings for lunch. I’ve done that.

1 Corinthians 11:27-30 makes it clear that this doesn’t fly.  So people who don’t yet believe in Jesus should not feel any pressure to eat or drink during communion. Just relax and observe. Those of us who do believe – let’s show up, focus and really enter in to what those little bits of bread and juice stand for. It’s the last thing he asked us to do before he died.

 

Why Singing in Church is so Cool (Why Even Go to Church Part VII)

 

downloadI’ve noticed for a long time now that I feel a lot better after the first ten or fifteen minutes in church, when we sing several songs in a row. Sometimes they are new praise songs I really like or hymns with solid lyrics, musically updated by our band. Other times they are songs I don’t like, (too saccharin or simple for my taste, say.) But even then, as long as I commit to singing them, I feel better. I feel a little happier, more clear headed, more in touch with God, more focused on what is true and less inclined to have my mind wander in dumb selfish directions.

I used to wonder why the Bible actually commands us to sing. It does so over thirty times, such as in Colossians 3:16, where it says to “…sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God,”  or in Ephesians 5:19, which adds, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”

Now I get it. When we sing, there’s a head-heart connection. Something about the physical  commitment of breathing deeply and employing the vocal chords, plus the pleasure of making melody and harmony, drives the true words we’re singing down into our hearts, and we believe them more deeply.

Author of “Imperfect Harmony – Finding Happiness in Singing with Others,” Stacy Horn, wrote, “When you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape. Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony.”

There’s actually a rise in the popularity of group singing in the last few years, and a growing body of research that it is super good for us. The findings include:

  • Singing causes the release of endorphins in the brain, which results in increased positive feelings and increased pain tolerance. ( National Center for Biotechnology Information.)
  • Another study from the same source found that oxytocin is also released when we sing, a hormone that reduces anxiety, promoting a sense of relaxation and security, plus increased energy.
  • Singing in groups lessens loneliness and depression by contributing to social bonds, according  to an analysis of a group of studies, published by the American Psychological Association.
  • A Harvard/Yale study demonstrated that group singing increased life expectancy in the population of New Haven, Connecticut.
  • Singing over time produced lowering levels of cortisol (which indicates stress reduction and improved mood) in another NCBI study of an amateur singing group.

Add to all these benefits the reality that when we sing scriptural songs that praise God or otherwise proclaim truth, we’re doing everything for each other that good preaching or poetry does – admonishing, affirming, convincing, convicting, directing, delighting, instructing, informing, reminding, recentering – we do all those things for each other when we sing together.

Lots of people, even the ones who do come to church, don’t sing. I notice this especially with young guys. Maybe this performance-oriented culture makes us more self-conscious. Maybe all those gushy lyrics and swelling tunes are too emotional for the stoic. Many churches do not have enough music chosen by young people.

Nevertheless, we’re commanded to sing, and wonderful things happen in and between us when we sing. So really, let’s all just suck it up and sing together in church.

Why Doubters and Atheists Should Come to Church (Why Even Go to Church Part VI)

I knew a woman who spent years in the New Age movement, getting deeper and deeper into occult practices. It had started as a spiritual adventure and ended as a nightmare, leaving her desperate to find the truth about God. She told me once that as soon as she walked into our church’s service, she could feel God there and knew that she would keep coming. Through some spiritual process that was hard to explain, she knew she was home.

The most intelligent of my classmates in high school, an eloquent and convincing atheist, arrived at school one Monday morning with an uncharacteristic smile on her face. She announced to me that she had become a Christian.  I asked her what brought it about. She said she had attended a performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” At the beginning of the song she was an atheist, by the end, she was a Christian. All my labored apologetics had yielded no apparent change, but something about people singing worship music had reached her.

I remember the first few times I was among people in a worship service (dragged along to camp by a friend in school.) As I watched this roomful of kids singing and praying, I sensed that something real and profound was going on. I didn’t get it, but I wanted to. I sensed that I was missing out on something really important. Seeing worship was not enough to make a believer out of me, but it was the beginning of a very close watch on the Christian community, and the asking of a lot of questions.

Because of experiences like these, I think anyone seeking truth or longing for a connection with God should come to good church services. Obviously, people are not going to worship until after they believe, but often in the process of listening to songs, prayers and sermons, powerful things happen in our souls. Obviously I have blatantly evangelistic motives, but before dismissing Christianity, it only makes sense to be sure you’re not just going along with the culture. (Christianity, as most of us know, is just not a thing right now in the U.S.)

Ed Stetzer, a writer in missiology and church growth, tweeted this last year: “One of the most effective evangelistic methods a church can use is exposing the unchurched to the authentic worship of God.”

I would argue that people who aren’t Christians should try out some good worship services to be thorough in their exploration of what life has to offer, and people who are Christians should show up weekly, if only to be on the lookout for some people  who might have questions. That is, after all, our commission.