Last Thursday I had the opportunity to attend Christ’s Church of the Valley’s Classic Worship Service. It was a small group of mostly senior members of the Church. A member of the group played a simple accompaniment to the music on an upright piano. Another member of the group led the singing, in a booming voice and waving of his hands to keep the timing. The group joined in the singing. There was a joy in their voices. You could tell that these songs were meaningful to them from the days of their youth. After many years of living with Christ through joys and tribulations the songs are even more meaningful today.
One woman led the responsive reading and everyone participated. Another woman gave a short devotional meditation to go along with communion. A couple of men in the group passed out the bread and juice and we took it together.
We had an out of town guest speaker who seemed to feel right at home interacting with the group.
Near the end the leader took prayer requests, calling each person by name and praying for them all.
Nothing about the service was polished and professional, but the thing that struck me was the do-it-yourself approach. No one was an observer. We were participants. This was a group of long time devoted followers of Christ truly worshiping their God together. Communion was not the segment in the service that comes before the offering and announcements; it was a truly meaningful exercise of individual devotion somehow made even more meaningful because it was done among other believers.
There was a sense of ownership in the whole thing. We are here to worship our God. We will sing His praises. We will tell of what He has done for us. And we will do it together.
It may be do-it-yourself Church. It may be simple Church, but in its own way it was simply wonderful.
The Seven Year Itch
In my last article about the Sabbath Year I explained that God has given us cycles of activity and rest: the daily cycle of activity and rest, a weekly cycle with the Sabbath Day, and a seven year cycle of the Sabbath Year. The Sabbath Year is designed to let the land rest, and I talked a lot about what that means.
If you are a farmer and the land is resting then what are you going to do with your time? You can’t plow, plant or harvest so what do you do? As I said before, no one has ever practiced the Sabbath Year so we have no real life examples of what people do with their time, so we can only speculate. Here are some possibilities.
If I were a farmer and I had a year off from farming I would want to spend some time fixing up the farm. I would repair the fences and walls or build a barn. I would do the home improvements that had been piling up over the last six years. I would fix, repair or build new farm equipment.
There would be opportunity for other activities. I could pursue other business interests. Maybe I would open up a shop in town and expand into another business. There would be time for reading and study. We have a term for that. We call it a Sabbatical (based on the idea of the Sabbath).
The Sabbath Year would be a great time for a vacation. Imagine having a whole year to travel. Imagine the effect on the broader world had the Jews traveled the world every Sabbath Year and people throughout the world learned about the God of Israel?
There is one more possibility—get married. The Old Testament taught that when a man would marry that he should take a year off from work and “Cheer up his wife”. I don’t know about you but if I had to take a year off of work I think I would choose the Sabbath Year, I was going to take it off anyway.
What a great idea. The first year of marriage is the most difficult. Couples need to rearrange their lives. They have to adjust to each other. They have to come to an understanding of the unique roles. Not having the pressure of work should make that transition easier. I think marriages would get off to a much better start if the husband had one goal and one goal only, to cheer up his wife.
The interesting thing here is that the next Sabbath Year would fall on their seventh anniversary. Psychologists have found that for some reason, many marriages go through another rough period in about the seventh year. This concept became so well known that it was nicknamed “the seven year itch”. They even made a movie by that name about a man and women being drawn into an affair. Did God know that there would be a seven year itch? Did he design a system where at the seventh year of marriage the financial burdens would be lifted, the work responsibilities would be removed and the couple would spend a year reconnecting? In addition to doing the neglected maintenance on the house the husband would do the neglected maintenance on the home. He would revisit his original task of cheering up his wife.
What a great idea. God is a pretty smart guy. Imagine living is a world the way that God intended. Pretty good huh?
We were driving down the street, as we came around a curve it came into view—this giant billboard. Not your averaged size billboard. No this was one of the truly gigantic ones, like you see in Hollywood. All it had was a big picture and a few small words. You couldn’t know for sure what they were advertising, but it sure caught my attention.
It was a good looking man, dressed in a suit, looking out the window of a high-rise building overlooking the city. You could tell he was good looking even though you could only see his back. His lines were clean and crisp. They communicated power and authority. He was looking at a grey city as if he owned it. Just the way he was standing said that this was a man on the cutting edge, he has it all together, he is in charge of his own destiny. It is the kind of man that women want.
Even without an explanation you could tell what the billboard was about. This billboard was geared towards women. They would be attracted to this confident man. I was attracted to him too. Not in the same way. I thought, that is the man I would like to be, rich, powerful, young, good looing, confident and in control. I would be the type of man that women would want, even my own wife would look at me with admiration and desire.
The only words on the billboard were “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I guessed that it was for a movie. The movie was a romance marketed to women. “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not about the weather. It is a moral statement. This movie will play on the edges of morality. My guess was that it would be sexual in nature although it could have to do with business. My mind flashed through all of the typical types of rationalization that a mind can do. I thought, I want to see this movie. It will be about sex. I can dabble in the grey zone and it will be alright. It won’t be overtly pornographic so it will be okay. It’s like those Carl’s Jr commercials, or the ones for Victoria’s Secret, or the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions. I mean it’s not like I am downloading porn. Besides maybe my wife will want to see it. Then it will be her idea. This guy in the movie will get her all hot and I can reap the benefit. Maybe you didn’t know that this is the way guys think. Well it is.
It ended up that I was right. The billboard is for a movie, and yes this is a movie about sex. Later I learned that this is not just another romantic film. It is about a very controlling and abusive man. It is about deviant sexual behavior. It devalues women and distorts our understanding of romance and sex. The main character in the movie is named Christian Gray, but there is nothing in the movie that is Christian and what they portray is gray is just down right evil.
Even though my thoughts moved through that path of rationalization, the decision to not see the movie came pretty easy even before I knew the details. The movie is rated “R” and as a rule we don’t see “R” rated movies. I won’t say that we never have seen one, but they are the rare exception. There has to be a very compelling reason. We have probably seen less that one every two years.
So we won’t be seeing “Fifty Shades of Grey” on Valentine’s Day. Instead we will see a romance called “Old Fashioned”. I am hoping it has a strong male lead that is confident and takes charge rather than use his power to take advantage of a woman. I hope that he is patient, kind, gentle, not selfish but giving. I hope that he values his woman more than she values herself. I hope that he cherishes everything about her. That is the type of man I want to be, and I hope that it is the type of man my wife wants. I want a good Old Fashioned Valentine’s Day that celebrates romantic love the way that God intends it to be.
Many people struggle with the question of, ‘How can there be a loving God when there is evil in the world?’
Isn’t it funny how everyone can easily tell you when they see evil? How do they do that? I mean, how is it that they know what is good and what is evil? If God does not exists where do we even get the idea that some acts are good and some other acts are evil? It seems that we believe that there is some objective standard out there of good and evil. Not only do we think that there is a standard but we believe that it is obvious to everyone. Even more we believe that if the world were to work like it should that everyone should do the good all of the time.
We do make one exception. We believe that when we do evil that, well that is Okay. We really shouldn’t be judged too harshly.
So when we ask the question of, ‘How can there be a loving God when there is evil in the world?’ What we really mean is, ‘How can there be a loving God, when He allows other people’s evil to go unpunished?’ Well maybe that is not quite right, we really don’t want God to punish people for evil; we want Him to prevent them from doing evil. At the same time we don’t want a God that tells us what to do. We don’t want a God that is controlling and judging when it comes to our behavior.
Isn’t it odd that we would consider a judging and controlling God to be unloving, and yet we want that type of God for everyone else?
Isn’t it true that our ability to identify evil is an indication that there is an absolute standard of right and wrong, and God has written the standard on our hearts? Isn’t it true that even though there is evil in the world and in our lives we recognize that something is desperately wrong; it shouldn’t be that way? Isn’t it true that we yearn for a loving God that will not condemn us for our evil but rather fix the problem? Isn’t it true that the Bible is the only book that explains the problem of evil in a way that makes sense? Other religions fall short. Evolution has an explanation that is empty, unsatisfying and just doesn’t ring true to our experience.
The Bible explains a world as God intended; free of evil where all of creation lives in harmony with God the creator. The Bible explains why we have knowledge of good and evil. Satan coerced us into rebelling against God’s command and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Evil entered into the world and everything has been out of whack since then. But God didn’t let it remain that way. God intervened into the world. He sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to take our evil on himself and to put it to death. The death of Jesus ended the grip of evil on the world. Now redemption is available to all of us. We can experience the love of a loving God rather than the condemnation of a Holy God. The choice is up to us. We look forward to the day that God will create a new heaven and a new earth; restoring it to the creation that He originally intended.
Only Christianity has a reasonable explanation for the existence of evil in the world. But we don’t really want an explanation what we want is a solution. Only Christ provides a remedy to the problem of evil.
The Sabbath year is one of the most interesting and mysterious economic principles in the Bible. The Sabbath Year rests on a more basic principle of Sabbaths. The concept is simple, everyone and everything needs to have a regularly scheduled time of rest and restoration.
We have a regular daily schedule of wakefulness and rest. The Sabbath Day provides a weekly schedule of rest and regeneration. The Sabbath Year is a much more far reaching principle. Scripture says that the Sabbath Year is to let the land rest. The focus is on the land but there are other aspects that are focused on people.
During the Sabbath Year all debts are paid off or canceled. All slaves are set free. Note that most of these slaves are not slaves like we normally think of them. They are people who have been sold into slavery in order to pay their debts. When the debts are canceled the slaves are set free. The same would be true of those who are in debtor’s prison.
The year is kind of a reset button. Things go back to zero and people can start afresh. The Sabbath is a time of rest and restoration and the Sabbath Year accomplishes this on a grand scale. The biggest problem with fully understanding the Sabbath Year is that we have no examples of anyone ever actually following it. It is a sad thing but we can only speculate as to how it would work.
Ponder with me the possibilities. God promised that if the Children of Israel would practice the Sabbath Year that by the sixth year in the cycle they would have accumulated enough stored foods that they would have enough to get them through the Sabbath Year and all the way up to the harvest of the next year.
We know that land that is continually harvested ends up depleting the soil. In America we have dealt with this problem by letting a field lay fallow, or more often by crop rotation. In crop rotation we plant complementary plants that will pull a different set of nutrients from the soil and restore some of the nutrients lost by the previous planting. There is another strategy of companion planting where complimentary plants are planted side by side in neighboring rows.
The biggest mystery here is that we don’t know which works better. We do not have a long term controlled experiment that tests crop rotation against the Sabbath Year model. Such an experiment would need to happen over a very large area and over several cycles of Sabbaths. I would love to see a Christian college and some Christian farmers take up the challenge of such an experiment.
One of the limitations of science is that experiments focus on one variable at a time. It is much harder to identify broader effects. In this example so far we have talked about soil and nutrition, but there are many more aspects. During the Sabbath Year crops are not planted, and they are not harvested, but they are not plowed under either. Crops that sprout up on their own are allowed to grow. They are left for the destitute (widows, fatherless and foreigners) to hand harvest for their daily needs. The rest is left for the wild animals.
Imagine with me what that means. In American farming the focus is on crop production. We seek to eliminate any critters or pests from the equation. To do this we use fences, barriers and pesticides. The Biblical model is much different. It is a much more eco-friendly approach. You see, man is the guardian of all of creation. It is his job to create an environment where all of God’s creatures thrive in balance. God has given him the tools to accomplish this, and one of the big tools is the Sabbath Year.
Those who study agronomy (the study of soils) know that there is much more to healthy soil than basic nutrition. There is also soil texture and organic material content, which affect its ability to maintain a proper water balance and even oxygen and other gasses. They also know that there are intricately balanced interactions between microbes. We are just beginning to understand these balances. Even at that the studies are limited. For the most part we have no idea how these balances change when the activity of larger animals are introduce.
The whole area of organic farming is just now being explored. Could it be that God has given us an outline for a perfectly balanced farming and ecological system and we never tried it out? Imagine the possibilities. Imagine farmers and nature working in cooperation. Imagine producers, environmentalist and conservationist living in harmony. Wow what a concept!
As I said before the sad thing is we have never seen it put into practice. The Children of Israel came into the Promised Land and set up shop. They planted and harvested in continuous production for 490 years. During that time they experienced many droughts and famines. At the end of that period God sent them into Babylonian captivity. Their country was devastated. They remained in captivity for 70 years. God said it was to allow the land to rest. 70 years for the 70 Sabbath Years they had skipped. That was God’s direct intervention to enforce the Sabbath Year.
Have we ever experienced anything similar in the United States of America? I think we have. I was reading recently about the causes of the Great Depression. Most analyst, point to the stock market crash of 1929 as the event that began the downward spiral. They also mention a parallel thing that was happening in the agricultural world. We had been blessed with bumper crops. Because of an oversupply the prices for agricultural goods plummeted. In response, individual farmers increased the production to recoup their losses. This action simply made the problem worse. The result was that many small family farms went bankrupt. On top of this, bad weather conditions dried out the badly depleted soil and the dust bowl ensued. Soil erosion severely damaged farm land in the Midwest. The farms were abandoned and the land rested.
Imagine what would have happened if during the years of bumper crops we had stored it away as God had instructed. The prices would have never fallen. What if the next year the farmers had let the land take a Sabbath Year? The over production would have been sold off and the prices remained stable. Who knows what would have happened with the dust bowl? Would crops have sprung up on their own, and created a barrier against the soil erosion that took place? Maybe the whole dust bowl could have been avoided. At the very least we could have gone without one year of production. Maybe we would have had tons of food stockpiled to feed the unemployed. Maybe the Dust Bowl was God’s judgment. Maybe it was His way of driving the farmers out of the land and allowing the land to finally get its Sabbaths. We will never know for sure but it is interesting to ponder the possibilities.
If we had we followed God’s other financial mandates the Great Depression could have been avoided altogether.