Dear Anaheim Church Family,
In-Person Church Services Remain Suspended: Our church board has decided to err on the side of caution and remain suspended through June. We will be coming back together to re-assess toward the beginning of July. While we certainly miss seeing everybody, we want to reopen in a way that is careful and safe. We will continue recording services and hosting other programs (mid-week prayer group, Sabbath schools, etc.) on zoom. Please pray for our leadership team that God’s wisdom & care can guide decisions & plans.
Religion was pretty oppressive in Jesus’ day: it was filled with requirements, but lacking in love. A list of literally hundreds of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s (mostly ‘don’t’s) constituted how to be right with God. Jesus Himself identified Judaism of his day as a ‘burdensome load’ (see Matthew 23:4), and a joyless series of rituals (see vv. 23 and onward).
In contrast, Jesus comes with his remarkably different way of teaching (see Matt. 7:28-29 and John 7:46), and begins his major sermon (which scholars believe he preached in many towns, given that the same teachings are scattered through Luke’s account) in Matthew chapter 5 with “the beatitudes” (meaning “supreme blessedness) being proclaimed.
And the groups he identifies are so contrasted to what Judaism held-up! Pharisees would likely have made a list of “Blessed are the pious, the scholarly, the flawless lawkeepers, the rich, the public pray-ers, etc. But hear what groups Jesus calls blessed: the poor in Spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungry/thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted (Matt. 5:3-10). Imagine what it would’ve meant to Jesus’ listeners to hear words of blessing, words of acceptance, words of consolation, words of hope and eager expectation! And it wasn’t for accomplishing something more than you were already doing: if you belong to one or more of these groups, you are seen by God, acknowledged, affirmed, and blessed. God smiles upon you, Jesus effectively says!
In my time, I’ve seen some forms of Adventism that can similarly be pretty burdensome and anxiety-producing. How ironic, given that the words of the Lord are “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Would we let Jesus’ accepting words of the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount sink in to our souls? Would we let God’s love & affirmation saturate us and define all that we do? Not that Jesus doesn’t present high standards and big challenges in the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7), but these are to be learned, undertaken, and accomplished within the context of love & acceptance, not in anxiety over whether we do it well enough to gain God’s acceptance.
Indeed, we at Sabattarians should be the best at resting in God’s love, in Jesus’ accomplishment of our salvation on the Cross of Calvary, given that the reasons for the resting are based in God’s acts of creation (Ex. 20:11) and liberation (Deut. 5:15)!
I think the most authentic Christian is a joyful Christian, down in their soul. This doesn’t mean having ‘low standards’ or ‘backsliding’ while presuming on God’s grace: The apostle John in his first epistle marries both obedience and joy in saying “This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3). Let’s remember that it is the same Jesus, who is the perfect lawgiver (John 14:15) who also spoke of giving abundant life! (John 10:10). Do we believe Him?
Perhaps we have some heart-work to do. I admit that at times I have grasped the profundity of God’s grace & how it relates to joyful obedience in response, yet have slidden back into anxious, approval-seeking, works-oriented religion later. It is somewhat like a balancing act! But let’s not try to keep the balance ourselves, let’s stretch our hand up to heaven, grasp Jesus’ hand, and have Him keep us on that ‘straight, narrow’ path of righteousness (Matthew 7:14).
I pray a blessing on you and your families throughout this week and onward. Despite our physical separation, may our unity in love and purpose be evident and sustain us through. Please don’t hesitate to e-mail, text, or call, if you’d like a prayer over the phone, a brief, door-front visit, or something else.
May God bless you all.
Pastor Mark Tatum