Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Labor Day Rest for Your Souls

I don't know about you, but my Labor Day weekend was way too short. Last year today's date fell on a Sunday, so we were right in the middle of the long weekend at this point. On September 6, 2015, I posted the following article on Examiner.com. Since Examiner has closed their cyberdoors, removing their content,  I replicate the post here for posterity.

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALabor_Day_New_York_1882.jpg

Many laborers are enjoying some well-deserved extended rest this weekend as the United States celebrates Labor Day Monday. The FOX28 website gives some recipe ideas for you to use this holiday, and the South Bend Tribune lists some activities in the area.

Labor Day isn't considered a religious holiday, but the words of Jesus come to mind as many workers take an extra day off.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

Jesus was not just talking about physical rest. He was offering spiritual rest—rest for your souls. This rest doesn't involve inactivity, either, as implied in the phrase "Take My yoke." A yoke is a device used by farmers to link animals together when working the fields or pulling a wagon or cart. Jesus invites people to join his team, and promises to pull together with them and refresh their souls.

Jesus' words end chapter 11 and lead up to a confrontation with the Pharisees in chapter 12. Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grain field and gleaning some of the grain and eating it. The Pharisees are incensed – not because they are stealing; the provision of leaving grain for the poor to glean was part of the Jewish law. The Pharisees objected because Jesus and the disciples were "working" on the Sabbath. Jesus responds first by declaring his authority. But even if the Pharisees do not recognize his authority, their legalistic response goes against the spirit of the law. In verse seven (NKJV) Jesus asserts, "But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless."

Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to show the Pharisees they had the wrong spirit in how they applied the law. In the parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus adds, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." [Mark 2:27 NKJV] God's law was made for our benefit; to use it in a merciless way so an individual is not benefited, or is oppressed, is not God's intention in giving it.

Jesus came to give us rest. Not by putting a yoke on us which we are unable to bear (See Acts 15:10.), but by working with us and in us to help us be what God intended us to be.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Notre Dame Football and Fundamentals

Notre Dame Stadium
Public domain photo from Wikimedia

Last night, Notre Dame lost a heart-breaker to the Texas. Both teams were up for the game, and neither gave up. It should be an interesting season for Irish and Longhorn fans. Back on this date in 2010, I wrote an article for Examiner.com. Since Examiner has ceased to exist, and their posts have been removed from the internet, I am re-producing that article (slightly edited) here. Although dated, the themes I discuss are relevant today.

2010 Notre Dame football - the fundamental difference
Notre Dame's overall impressive 23-12 win over Purdue Saturday come down to one word: fundamentals.

People are talking about it all over the Internet, expressing what this Examiner was thinking all through the game. It was obvious. The team has been concentrating on the fundamentals.
Do a basic Google search for "notre dame football fundamentals" and you will see it over and over. Three replies left to Al Lesar's South Bend Tribune article stressed it. Matt Mooney and Eric Murtaugh both mention it in their articles for BleacherReport.com. Keith Arnold wrote about it for NBCSports.com. I could go on and on.

No matter how good your coaching on game day, if you haven't gone over and over the fundamentals during practice, it will show during the game.

At about the turn of the Twentieth Century, a movement began in American Christianity called Fundamentalism. When we hear the term "Fundamentalist" today, it is usually said in derision. But, just like football, getting back to the basics can be a good thing. 

The early Fundamentalists were not concerned with political power. They were not interested in building huge monuments or enterprises. Their focus was on the need to restore Christianity to the "fundamentals of the faith": such as the deity of Christ and the authority of the scriptures. The movement crossed denominational boundaries, building bridges instead of creating secluded islands.

Whatever happened to Fundamentalism? Where did it go astray? Perhaps Jesus gives us a hint in his rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-28 (NIV):

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

The Pharisees were the strict Fundamentalists of their day. They were very particular about how they followed the scriptures. That was not the problem. The problem was that they replaced mercy and love for others with a lot of outward ritual. They thought they could think and act toward others any way they pleased as long as it looked like they were outwardly following all the religious requirements.

Those of us who claim to follow the fundamentals of Christianity need to examine ourselves whether we have replaced love and mercy with keeping a list of do's and don'ts. It's not that we should abandon the fundamentals, but we need to relax a bit and not become a bunch of killjoys.
After the win yesterday, the team was not exactly exuberant. Especially late in the game there were some mistakes that could have lost them the game, and their focus was on the mistakes instead of the win.

It's not that they should abandon the fundamentals this coming week in practice. You can be sure there will be some intensive drills related to securing the football. But Coach Kelly told the media that the team needs to lighten up and enjoy the win.
Christians are on the winning team. Do the drills, but lighten up and enjoy the victory!