Each time I have visited Israel, I have been profoundly astonished at how seriously the Sabbath is observed. Our tour agency and guides must work strategically to arrange sites we visit to ensure that we do not end up at a strictly Jewish site between Friday at sundown till Saturday at sundown.

One of my favorite stops is always Kefar Kedem, a community of Jewish folks who show us what Jewish culture would have been like thousands of years ago to help us better understand what we read in Scripture. Once while we were there, our host Menachem was explaining how they rest and reflect on the Sabbath each week.

Someone asked him, “But what do you do if you have to work on the Sabbath?” He replied that they didn’t work on the Sabbath. The person re-phrased the question, “Yes, but what if the company you work for is not owned and run by someone who is Jewish, and they don’t observe the Sabbath? What if they require you to work on the Sabbath?” Menachem’s reply was priceless. He cocked his head somewhat puzzled and replied, “We would never work for someone who required that.”

Our group was stunned. They were further stunned to find out that, although this community which seems to live in the old ways, they have Internet service, wifi, satellite TV and more. But they were completely blown away when Menachem said they shut it all off for the Sabbath. No TV. No browsing or surfing. No social media. No cell phones.

Sabbath. A break from the normal. Rest. Ceasing from the stuff that fills the other six days of the week.

For the last twenty-four hours, I did something really rare… I did not access any social media, and I did not check this blog. Admittedly, I Googled a couple of inquiries, and I texted a couple of people. But other than that, no electronic communication with the rest of the world. I didn’t start off doing it on purpose. I just decided that I would put off checking anything till the afternoon. Then I realized I hadn’t missed it and decided to go a little longer. By early evening, I had made it that long and figured I could make it until this morning.

And you know what? It was nice. It felt good to take a break. We Americans check out phones on average about five times an hour… once every twelve minutes. If we sleep eight hours, that leaves sixteen hours in a day. That means we check our phones about 80 times per day during our waking hours.

What if we discovered what God told His people about the reason He commanded the Sabbath break? What if we could grasp that He gave that break to us as a gift? What if we would set aside just our social media for twenty-four hours each week? We might just discover that we don’t HAVE to check it 80 times a day. We might talk with our family and friends more… and actually be focused on those conversations. We might read a little more and thereby learn a little more. We might play a little more and have a little more fun. And we might find that that break really is a gift.

I don’t know how successful I’ll be at doing this every week, but I think I want to try. And I hope that you will try with me. I don’t care which twenty-four hours you pick. I don’t care if you start at sun-up or sun-down. But let’s receive this gift in the same way we just received all those at Christmas… believing that someone gives it in love and for our joy!

If you’re bold enough to take a break with me, let me know… but not on your Sabbath… or mine!

It’s been a full day. A great day, but a full day. It seems like every day is a full day for PR31. I mean, she didn’t get that name by accident. She gets up early, and goes to bed late. She takes no naps along the way, and only an occasional break for a snack.

She had just told me recently that it feels like she can never get done with all she has on her to-do list. So it was funny to us this evening when our six year-old, Austin, says to her, “You get done with one thing, Mama, and you always have something else to do.” We laughed, and agreed.

The truth is that this time of year… designed to be enjoyed… can turn into hustle and bustle if we’re not careful. With all the places to go, and people to see, and things to do, we pick up the pace to try and get it all done. We say to ourselves, “Well, when I get done with this, I’ll be able to stop and enjoy the season.”

The problem with that way of thinking and living is that more things are always being added to the list, and the enemy of your soul will try to rob you of the peace that comes from taking a break to stop… breathe deep… smell the sugar cookies… and relax. But you don’t have to give in to the tyranny of the urgent.

In fact, I give you permission right now to take a break. (Okay, so if you’re at work, you may have to wait till lunch or till you get off. That one isn’t my call.). I give you permission to just sit down without worry, and listen to a Christmas carol… eat a cookie… call a friend. The dirty dishes can wait another 30 minutes. The presents that need to be wrapped will still be there when you get up from your break. And you’ll feel better. You’ll feel at peace.

That’s not just one of the titles Jesus was given before His birth, you know. It’s something He wants to share with you… Peace. All you have to do is set aside that to-do list for a few minutes, make snow angels or drink hot chocolate, and do nothing. If it will make you feel better, put “nothing” on your to-do list or calendar. Schedule an appointment with “peace” at a certain time… and keep it.

And for that person who feels like you’ll never get it all done if you stop to take a break, you’re right. And you’ll also never get it all done if you don’t take a break. So, you might as well take a break, and receive His peace to keep going. And hey, who knows… you might like it so much, you might even try it again tomorrow.

Merry Christmas!

We all wear down over time.  God showed us how to take a break and come back strong.  It happens when we sleep each night. Our bodies rejuvenate.  It happens when we take a day off each week.  We all need a hard reset every once in awhile.

And I love that David says in Psalm 23:3 that the Lord “restores my soul.”  Our soul is our mind, will and emotions.  My thoughts and feelings definitely need to be restored sometimes.

The cool thing to me is that when you break the word “restore” down, you get two words:

1) Rest.  When we rest and the the Lord restores our souls, He gives our brain and our hearts a break from their normal stress and strain of life. And who doesn’t need that occasionally?

Ever had a business meeting… or a toddler… that made your brain feel like mush by the end of the day?  Rest helps your mind reset and be ready to go again.

Rest is essential to being restored.  Restoration can’t take place unless you take a break.  You can’t restore an old car or an old building without shutting them down and taking them out of commission for awhile.  The same is true of us.  We have to stop and rest to be fully restored.

2) Ore.  Honestly, this is the one that excites me because I didn’t see it at first.  When God takes us through a season of restoration, He mines out the good stuff which has been deposited in us, but has been hidden by other junk over time.

We have gems… jewels… precious metal… thoughts, and beliefs, and feelings, and ideas, and dreams which we would never really realize are there if it wasn’t that He mines them out of us during times of restoration.

I wonder how many of us miss out on extra strength of mind, will and emotions because we will not rest.  And I wonder how many dreams, ideas and feelings we never discover because we will not be still long enough for them to be uncovered by all the clutter of life?

I’m in a season of life right now that has offered me extra rest and extra mining of ores in me.  And I love how He restores.  Let me encourage you to get a good night’s sleep most nights… take one 24-hour period off most weeks… take a vacation most years… and take an extended break most decades… all for the purpose of restoration.

I love this quote…

“Long before Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus, the tree was planted to meet his need.”

Ficus sycomorus is the scientific name of the type tree Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus according to Luke chapter 19.  That type tree can take from twenty to fifty years to grow to its full maturity.  So it is possible that before Zacchaeus was born, that tree he climbed was planted. It also means that it was possibly planted before Jesus even came to earth as a man.

Here’s the good news we can take away from this for us today…

God already knows what you are going to need long before you’re going to need it. And He comes up with a solution to provide what you’re going to need before you even know to ask Him for it.

So you can relax now.  God has everything under control.  You’ll have what you need when you need it.

Countless sermons have been preached from it.  I’ve heard it used at almost every funeral I’ve ever attended.  I have both been comforted by it myself and quoted it to offer comfort to others.  Apart from John 3:16, Psalm 23 may be the most widely known and most beloved passage from Scripture ever.

Since it has such power to encourage and comfort and lift, I am choosing to focus our attention for the next 5 days on The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23.  And while I am a preacher by career, I hope to present my thoughts in such a way that even those who are not Christ-followers can see how incredible it is to belong to the Good Shepherd.

Jesus calls Himself “the Good Shepherd” in John chapter 10.  I say that only to give us some point of reference as to who it is we will be looking at over these five days.  And I hope we find our hearts drawn to Him as we go along.

David, a shepherd writing a song about God from a perspective he understands, paints a portrait for us of a God who loves us and looks out for our best interest. And the first truth about the Good Shepherd is that…

He Provides.

I have been given one of those handshakes when someone slips you a $20 bill or a $100 bill in a time of need.  We have received the proverbial check in the mail when we didn’t know where the money was going to come from. I’ve also had work provided when I needed income.

And whether through work or gift, I have learned that God the Good Shepherd always provides for His sheep. And not just financially.

Psalm 23, verses 1-3 point out that the Good Shepherd provides all we need… food to eat, water to drink, our daily normal human requirements.  But He also provides for our rest… and our peace… and our emotional well-being.

The point is that He knows what we need and He provides it. He knows what we need on every level, and He knows how to provide for each one of those needs.  With Him as your Shepherd, your every need is supplied.

It’s a great thing to be provided for.  As kids, we don’t usually understand all that our parents were doing to provide for us.  But as we get older (and begin having to provide for ourselves and our own family), we often begin to grasp how much they provided for us.  And as God’s kids… as the sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd to use David’s analogy… we are completely provided for.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.”

If you feel like you are lacking something today, ask the Good Shepherd.  He knows how to provide for your every need.