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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Keeping the Sabbath

I've noticed that Christians, and even their churches, don't seem to talk much about the Sabbath. It was a day of rest, observed by the Lord Himself when He finished all creation. And it is a day of rest given to mankind by the Lord Himself to be observed weekly.

Different religions define it a bit differently. The Jews (and some Christians) observe it the seventh day of the week (Saturday) for rest and religious observance. Muslims observe it on Friday as a day of prayer and rest. Other Christians observe it on the first day of the week, Sunday, in honor of Christ's resurrection from the dead. The common theme of course is that it is a full day of the week, dedicated to rest from one's working life. Also common in most religions is the fact that it is a day of focus on God - through prayer, worship, etc.

Now something else that I also notice is that the Sabbath doesn't seem to obvious in our modern Christian culture. Many of us may not be scheduled to work at our profession or trade on a particular day of the week, but we may also not be spending that day in rest or focus on the Lord. For many of us, the day off work is a day to get chores and errands done, to spend on entertainment or both.

As I look at Scripture on this subject, I notice that God was very clear about some things regarding the Sabbath. Other aspects of it He seemed to be less emphatic about. Take the day of the week, for example. Whether the Sabbath is appropriately kept on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or any other particular day of the week doesn't seem to be as important to God as other aspects of the Sabbath (such as rest and focus on Him).

Look at what Jeremiah 17: 21-22 says about the Sabbath. "This is what the Lord says: 'Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day .... Do no ... do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded ...'" It continues in Jeremiah 17:27, "but if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load ... then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.'"

So what was God saying here? For starters, He was saying that keeping the Sabbath is a matter of obedience. It is God's will for my life. He defined it as a day of rest, focused on Him (holy) and made it a requirement for His people. Beyond that, He warned that if we do not keep it, there will be dire consequences. Put another way, God will have to punish those who disobey Him by not keeping the Sabbath as He has commanded. The consequences? Adversity, opposition, difficulties and other things that will "consume" Jerusalem (which now represents anywhere God's people live).

Simply put, folks, we are to keep the Sabbath as a holy day of rest. If we aren't willing to do that, then we should not expect to be prosperous (in whatever ways you want to define prosperous). This is not a very difficult message to understand. It's clear and concise.

So why do we see so many Christian cultures that exhibit very little evidence that they are following it? Is it because we don't understand? Is it because God is asking something that's unreasonable or impossible for us to accomplish? It it because we simply don't care?

It seems to me that somewhere along the line even the most righteous people made a conscious decision to allow exceptions. I imagine that some Puritan society found it reasonable and plausible to, for example, allow some work on the Sabbath. Perhaps it was in the field of medicine - where nurses would need to work in hospitals in order that the sick to be cared for.

I think they probably reasoned and logically concluded that the God's command to love one another is more important than His command for a Sabbath. And so the nurses worked on the Sabbath. Of course, the nurses had to get to work, so the taxi drivers worked on the Sabbath. Of course, the taxi drivers had to eat - so the restaurants were open on the Sabbath. The restaurant workers needed childcare - so the day care centers were open on the Sabbath. The day care centers needed diapers - so the department stores were open on the Sabbath.

Do you see where this is going? Mankind used reason and logic to talk ourselves out of a Sabbath day of holy rest. Looking at it a bit more harshly, we might even say that we rationalized and justified sinning against God. (To be sure, not keep any Sabbath is a sin against God.) Is this appropriate? I don't think so.

We're not here to have a theological debate about how the Sabbath is kept. I am not going to argue about where to draw the line. We don't need to fret over whether someone who works at home sins by checking their e-mail on Sunday. We don't need to stew over whether a stay-at-home Mom sins by doing a load of laundry - or a teacher reviews her lesson plan on Sunday evening before the school week starts on Monday.

But I believe it's time for Christians - and anyone else who thinks they are following the one true God - to have a serious discussion about the condition of their hearts as regards the Sabbath. Are we making the effort? When the nurse is scheduled to work on Sunday, does he or she set aside any other day of the week for holy rest from their profession and focus on God?

As I look at the character and nature of God, and consider His words, it is that which day we select or how we define the Sabbath is not nearly as important as our intent. Is our obedience to God's commands purposeful? Is it effective? Do we offer God a sincere effort at obedience?

I don't know if it's a sin to shop or eat out on Sunday. It isn't clear to me that mowing your yard or doing some laundry on Sunday is a sin. I'm not sure if there's room in a proper Sabbath for football or shopping at the local mall. But what I am sure of is that God requires an obedient heart. He expects me to live differently on this one day of the week. He expects that difference in my life on this one day of the week to be tilted towards Him.

So maybe the best question any of us could ask ourselves is what you and I can do to make our observance of the Sabbath day of holy rest more intentional, more sincere and more effective.

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