The art of stopping: rediscovering the sabbath in the 21st century.

13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. (Exodus 31:13)

 At the time of writing I find myself sitting in starbucks watching the world rush on past as I try to pause from the never-ending tide of busyness that seems to overcome me. I constantly flirt with the culture I live in, continually finding myself being pushed along without really ever stopping to think about what I’m doing or where I’m going. I often feel like a bit of driftwood, harmlessly and naively floating off into a big ocean, with storms on the horizon.

God became a blur to me during my first term at university, just another concept and ideology that was apart of the seemingly endless pattern of life. How had I let the maker of the universe, the God who loves me and calls me to fully rely on him, develop into just a blur? He had just become a part of my life….. Yet the truth is he is everything I need. I know this so well and I’ve blogged a lot about it, yet my heart leads me to build my life on other securities. I find myself drifting into the dangerous state of being religious, doing the right things whilst gaining contentment from the worldly idols around me, whether they be friendships, words of affirmation, abilities or even my own sense of righteousness. A great sister of Christ articulates this battle so well in her blog and I fully recommend you check it out as it displays brilliantly the trap I find myself in so often.

http://foundationsinlove.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/unshakable-foundations/

 The truth is we live in a busy culture, everything happens so quickly and we are constantly drummed into a pattern of linear functioning, working like robots for hours on end. I find my diary constantly full of meetings, events and reminders. I remember sitting down over Christmas and realising that I needed to learn how to stop, to pause, to breathe, to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). Yet when I opened my diary I found a life of busyness, a list of commitments, not bad commitments, just commitments. With a heavy heart the reality that I had become too busy for God began to hit home. How is it my relationship with my God, my Saviour, my Dad and best friend had become contained to a quick pray and bible reading before I ventured to the safety of my bed at the end of a long day.

You see we’ve lost the art of the Sabbath.

 My Sunday, set aside as ‘God’s day” has become consumed with doing Godly stuff rather than stopping and listening to God, I’ve become like Martha (Luke 10:38-42). The problem is is that its a sly problem. Because I do ‘Godly’ stuff I think everything is ok and yet actually I become a Pharisee, dwindling on my own righteousness and acts. I often see it as ok biblically, I mean Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for being too ritual on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28) and yet too easily I slip into the way of the world, busy every day of the week, falling into the trap of believing Godly stuff will keep me and God ok. This is not something I believe Jesus preaches. I think I (and all of us) need to relearn what it means to keep the sabbath Holy (Exodus 20:8) in the 21st century, finding the balance between not becoming ritualistic but not becoming a captive to the trap of culture and ignoring it completely.

 Its a part of our very make up to rest.

 God lays down the example in Genesis 2:2, by resting on the 7th day. He then commanded his people to keep it: 12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) It was a day Holy (set apart) to the Lord. It was a reminder for the people of God that he is their God. Even with the busyness of being an Israelite the Sabbath day was there to remind them of the God of their ancestors. The sabbath was made for man as a reminder of the covenant we have with God. You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:30

 So why have we lost this day?

 We become busy and settle into the pattern of going through the motions, or at least I do.

 The sabbath has become just another day, its not set apart to God, or at least for me anyway.

 So here is the challenge; to rediscover the art of stopping and breathing in our busy culture.

Recently I’ve taken Friday to be a day set apart for God, a day where I try to stop and listen to my maker by fasting, pausing and seeking after God. Its been quite a journey. I find the best way for me to stop is to escape my everyday surroundings and walk into the countryside. As I was walking one Friday I stopped, pausing to hear the sound of creation at peace, just being. In that moment I put aside the worries of deadlines, friendships and future and stopped to hear the sound of quiet.

  I became a human being for the first time in a long while.

 I was learning to be still and know that God is God. In pausing I heard the still small whisper of my Dad that was so often drowned out by the never ceasing chatter of my soul. As I paused I realised that once again God is everything that I need, he is my peace and I need to rely on him. I realise that I need to stop relying on worldly things and realign my life with Gods. Relying on God is so hard in our culture where there is so much vying for our attention. Yet when I do stop and pause I find myself at peace before my God, slowly but surely stepping forward in the journey of building my life on him. He is everything I need and in relearning the art of the Sabbath is part of the journey of learning to Love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and Mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Its comes at a cost though.

 With a life already so busy I find myself wrestling with what I can drop. For four years I’ve played football on a Friday with some lads and this has been something I have loved doing. I’ve grown to love the lads as my brothers and I always hope and pray they may find God. I argued for a long time that I couldn’t drop this. I loved it and believed it does good. Yet God is my priority for he is my life. It was a painful sacrifice to make, but if it means growing closer to God then its a sacrifice that is worth it. I never want to fall into religion and so for me its about giving the time to God and if something comes up asking God if its right to do. For I don’t want to become a Pharisee and not do the Lords work, even if it is a sabbath day

. What do we put before God in our lives?

 What can we sacrifice in order to grow closer to our loving father?

 How would setting aside time to God work in my life?

 I’m on the journey of trying to rely on God, and I struggle, constantly relying on people and myself. Yet I know when I stop and rely on God there is joy. I stand firm.

 Lord, Help me to learn how to stop. To learn to breathe in in this life. I confess I am too busy and have often let you become just a concept in my life. I know that you are my shepherd who leads me beside quiet waters. Help me to stop and set apart time for you, for you are all I need. Help me to build my life on you, for I know that you are the only firm foundation in this world. Help me to not be religious but to be a child after your own heart. Amen

Learning from Uganda

I recently went on a weeks trip to Kampala, Uganda as part of a celebration of the link between St Nicholas Kalerwe, Kampala and Christchurch Winchester. This was my sixth visit to Uganda and my fourth to Kalerwe and once again I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Ugandan culture and the love for God and for people shown by our Ugandan brothers and sisters. Here I have documented some of the things I’ve learnt and cherished from the week and hope that these things inspire us all in some way or another in our walk with Christ. 

(Big note that most of the photos are taken from Jonathan White, another member of the team who is also a great friend and fellow brother in Christ. Thanks a lot!) 

We are one in Christ

One of the biggest things I’ve learnt is the idea of a church family. Every time I’ve flown over to Africa I’ve known that I’m going to visit my brothers and sisters in Christ, yet this was the first time I’ve truly felt that. Going back to visit the amazing Kisitu family who hosted me 6 months ago was just like returning home. A great symbol of this was when on the last day I had the amazing privilege of going to a beach at lake victoria with some of the youth of the church. It was just like spending the day with family as we swam, laughed with each other and sat reflecting on the time we had spent together. I’ll always remember us standing at the airport, hand in hand, as we stood and prayed for our journey. The goodbyes were some of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had to say, you could almost hear the sound of hearts tearing as it pained us to separate. It was truly like saying goodbye to close family members. We had the most amazing time just building relationships together and this was perhaps the highlight of the trip, coming together as one. The verse from Galatians 3:28 came to mind – There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus…. Amen                                              

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The team going to the beach for our last moments in Uganda. My brothers and sisters in Christ forever. 

The whole strap line for the week trip was “one-ness in Christ” (coming from Ephesians 2) and I can’t think of any better symbol of this than the monday morning where we took war to the rubbish heaps of Kalerwe. This was the case for most of the week where we went out in teams together with the teams mixed. It truly was amazing to work alongside our fellow brothers and sisters together for the gospel. Throughout the whole week we under took mission together as one team, not a team of Mzungu (white people) or africans but as one. I remember pausing in my work and gazing out at the team where there was such a mix of unity. The photo below shows the big clean up of the field behind the church.

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The big clean up. A united team. 

We are wonderfully and fearfully made

I’ve never been a big fan of babies. In working at Christ Church one of my jobs was to help out at Creche on a monday morning. I’d dread it. Crying babies and everything associated do not float my boat so I always used to hang out with the older boy toddlers because they were a lot of fun, so it was perhaps a shock to have this as something I learnt. One morning we went to Mulago hospital to pray and we were given the children’s ward. I went and prayed for a baby who had malaria and my heart just broke for this child. I’ll always remember the sight of this baby’s four tiny fingers wrapped around one of my own and just thinking wow this child came from this woman next to him. I was amazed at how it was put together and how it had started off as a tiny foetus and would one day grow into a strong man.  As I prayed the verse in Psalm 139:14 kept running through my head

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
   your works are wonderful, 
   I know that full well.

I saw how beautiful this child was to God, with its big eyes just gazing up at me in his helplessness. I’m not a father and I guess that when I become one this feeling will be even bigger but I saw God’s love for us as his children as we stand in our own broken state. How valuable and beautiful we are to him, how he longs to embrace us. I was totally overwhelmed and I still struggle to explain it but it was the first time I’d truly seen the beauty of a baby. 

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You can just see me on the right with this beautiful child holding onto my finger as I prayed for him and his mum. One of the most profound moments of the trip for me.

There is nothing like the presence of God

One afternoon me and a couple of the team stayed late so that we could hang out with the youth in the evening. We’d just been at a cafe polishing off a plate of chips and a much needed beefburger so were running a bit late by the time we’d got to the church. I can’t quite explain what happened next but we walked into the prayer meeting where our Ugandan friends were praying and simply the presence of God was there. It was not the awkward feeling of when I walk into a church in England and people seem to be encountering God, but I was overawed by the presence of God not distracted by anything else. I could not help but get on me knees and pray and worship God. The very Glory of God, which simply means weight of God, was upon me. As we prayed I was asked to give a word and I flicked open my Bible and found myself land on Matthew 6:25-24 which is about do not worry about anything. I spoke words which were obviously the holy spirit and was profoundly touched by my own words as I came to verse 33 -“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Its about seeking first the kingdom of God. My dear african brothers and sisters so know the presence of God. Jesus just explodes from them in their love. I was humbled so much and was honestly jealous at there love for God. In the UK I often feel like I’m someone who seeks after God with a lot more of my heart than most people and not in an arrogant way, I just think we can be so dry sometimes. Yet when I sat in this prayer meeting I realised how much more I still  want to grow in my love for God. A guy called Alex simply wakes up at 4 every morning because he wants to know God and prays for 2 hours until six. His passion for God far exceeds anything I do and I felt myself humbled yet passionate to grow and seek Gods kingdom above all others. Its not about how much time we spend with God as if he is some sort of slot machine but if we want to know God more we should surely spend more time with him. 

I got up an hour earlier and went to bed a few hours later the next few nights in desperation to seek God with all my heart. I’m always challenged by Jeremiah 29:12-14 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the LORD. I grew in my love for God and I pray that when I get back home I’d be serious enough for God that I can get up hours earlier just because waking up to the King of kings is so worth it. 

Jesus, hope for winchester

Jesus, hope for kalerwe is the strap line for hope revival ministries, the youth led group who desire revival for the area they live in. They always talk about how Jesus is the hope for Kalerwe and I’ve always given it an amen. Yet this time God simple turned it around and said Jesus, hope for winchester. I don’t know why it isn’t the first thing that comes to my heart for my city, but in this moment I realised how really the only hope for our city is Jesus. It reminds me of an amazing picture God gave me a few years ago at soul survivor of the city of Winchester with a mountain on it, a mountain of oppression and we as the christians were trying to move it. Yet it was only we humbled ourselves and prayed that God came and moved this mountain. Jesus is the hope for winchester.

Boda bodas are so much quicker than Mtatus

Stuck in a jam again. Kampala seems to be full of traffic jams. Its rush hour 16 hours a day it seems. I discovered this on many occasions that Mtatu’s (white van taxi things) also stop in random places and pick up and drop off many passengers. Then there are these epic but highly dangerous motorbikes called boda-bodas. They swarm around kampala like ants and weave in and out of the traffic like the jedi fighters of star wars. I love the thrill of jumping on one of these, the air rushing through my hair brings the thrill of adventure like no other form of transport. I once got lost on one of these and ended up travelling two miles up the road towards the north because I was too busy enjoying the adventure. Yet these boda bodas are so much quicker. It was on the last day that we decided to embark on a mtatu to get from the southwestern area of Bugolobi to the north end of town kalerwe. We completed half the journey on a painfully slow mtatu ride before giving up altogether and jumping on a boda. The speed of the journey was a massive difference been able to just bypass traffic jams, proving that Bodas are a much more efficient way of travelling. Thank God for bodas.

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The regular site of Mtatus stuck in a traffic jam.

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An example of a boda boda

Church should be centre of the community

One of the most wonderful things about St Nicholas Kalerwe is how it is the centre of the community. In essence it is like how the English church used to be. The school is church run and is run by the vicars wonderful wife and everyone knows the church. So much good comes from it, the youth clean the streets people pray for each other and the church tries to reach the people in everything they do. We went door to door praying one afternoon which was amazing. It challenged me on how I view church back home. The Church I’ve been mainly been brought up in is a wonderful Church, one in which I’ve grown to know Jesus, yet it is a commuter Church, one which does not have very many people in the local community. I’ve very recently started to attend a church in a local area of Winchester which has left me so excited for Gods people and church being the local community. It gave me huge excitement to see the way St Nicholas Kalerwe reached out to its local community and I pray that St Barnabas Weeke will do the same. God has given me such a passion for authentic community and it was amazing to spend time in the worshipping missional community of St Nicholas Kalerwe.

God is everything I need

This is something I’ve been challenged by for a couple of months now but I was again amazed at this reality. Not only do I see it in the people I was around in Kalerwe but I found this true in a time of my own brokeness. The brothers and sisters I was lucky enough to spend time with had such contentment in Christ. It was once again a realisation that the kingdom of heaven really is like treasure in a field, now I’ve found it I really do want to sell it all to have it. I was also really sick on the way home, I’ve never felt so sick, throwing my guts open out into a plane cubicle. It should have been a horrible experience but I just remember sitting there in this moment of pain praising God saying God I have you and thats all I need, despite this obvious pain. I really thought I had a serious problem but yet I simply said God whatever happens its all going to be alright because I’ve got you whether it killed me or whether I made a full recovery. Luckily I’m now feeling alot better but it showed me how much I value God. Jesus is all I need. 

The joy of the Lord is my strength

Joy is something I don’t think we really get or I certainly don’t get. I’ve often heard joy is a state of being whereas happiness is more a reaction to an external event. One thing I was amazed by was the joy of the church in Kalerwe. They are filled with it. They stand firm upon it. Through the hard times the experience joy comes from within their relationship with God. I often wonder how much joy is found in our westernised churches. As we sat in the prayer meeting I mentioned earlier my good friend and fellow brother Simon mentioned the story of King David dancing half naked in front of the ark of the covenant, that he was so overcome by God he couldn’t care less how others viewed him. Am I like that in church today? Lord be my Joy

Always look before kneeling on the ground

Perhaps a funny story than a real learning point but a hilarious moment none the less. One morning I woke up early before sunrise to pray, read my bible and a book called the pursuit of God (by A.W Tozer I recommend massively) As I was praying I was awed by God and felt like I could do nothing but bow in his presence. It was as I was kneeling and praying that a sudden buzzing sound came from the ground below, confused I stoped praying and looked around. To my shock there were hundreds of ants suddenly erupting out of the ground around me and running up and down my body, their sound was so loud. I managed to get them all off me but perhaps next time I pray I should check that I’m not going to disturb an anthill. 

England is the battle ground

I’ve often thought this but once again was reminded of the this fact while I was away again. When I first came to Uganda at the age of 15 I went out believing I was the saviour of Africa – going to help the broken people. When I got there I was humbled by how much I was broken and how much my African brothers and sisters taught me about being firm in God. Its not that Uganda doesn’t have issues because it does, HIV is still at large and people live in poverty amongst other things, but missionally they know God more than we do. Most of the country is Christian compared to the small percentage of church goers in England. In truth Uganda is the place where I go to be refuelled to live for God, where I learn from my African brothers and sisters to rely on God and how to do community, England is the battle ground where missionaries are needed. It would be the easiest thing in the world for me to go and live in Africa it really would. I would love it so much and if God called me to go I would drop everything to go over there for the rest of my life. Yet I’m called to be a bearer of the good news for Jesus in England. I’ll always love Uganda and it will be my spiritual home where I pray I’ll never forget my great friends and where I’ll always go every year to visit but England is where I’m called.

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