Monday, March 28, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 6

This will be my final post on the blessings of the Sabbath. I want to conclude by adding one further consideration. As we consider the keeping of the Sabbath day our motives are of great importance. We must never obey God out of a fearful or servile obedience. We must never obey out of a desire to win God's approval. Obedience must always be rendered out of our great love for Christ. This is the difference between servile obedience and evangelical obedience. When obedience is rendered from the right motive there is glorious pleasure from the act of pleasing Christ.

There is always a danger when churches begin to enforce the Sabbath in a harsh or legalistic manner. The Sabbath must be observed out of delight, not out of fear. Pastors must guard against "lording over the flock." They must guard against overstrict authoritarian oversight that keeps the congregation on the level of children rendering legal obedience rather than allowing them to grow in maturity and holiness. At Trinity we preach and teach our duty to obey the 4th Commandment but never make harsh demands as to its observance. As we recognize the blessings of this day we will find greater ways to observe it. This kind of obedience cannot be forced upon a congregation. The motive for all of our obedience must always be Christ. As we delight in Him His Law will also be a delight. When Christians fail to delight in the Sabbath the root cause is either a lack of delight in Christ or ignorance of His Law. The Law will always convict of sin, but only grace will make the Law a delight. May God be pleased to raise up a generation of Christians who call His Law a delight.

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 5

This is the fifth entry on the blessings connected to the Sabbath. It is sad when God's people look upon His Law as a curse rather than a blessing. Oh to have the heart of David, "Oh how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). The Sabbath is full of blessings and we must look upon it with delight. It is full of Divine wisdom. God knows our frame. He knows what we need. We need the weekly Sabbath rest. God also knows what we need spiritually. In this post I want to address the spiritual blessings of the Sabbath.

The Spiritual Benefits of the Sabbath

God is the Lord of all the earth. He has ordained every detail of our existence. He has ordered days and weeks and months and years. He established a pattern of six days of work followed by a day of rest. God could have created time without any divisions. He could have ordained that we labor without rest--unending toil. For the believer, would we not long in our heart for some free moments to study God's Word? Would we not wish for time off to pray. Would it not be a wonderful blessing to have a whole day without work so we could worship and meditate upon the wonders of God? Isn't it amazing that God has blessed us with such a day and yet most Christians today see it as a slavish burden rather than a blessing?

Consider the blessing of gathering with God's people for worship. The Sabbath is a day where we can set aside the cares and distractions of our weekly toil and focus entirely upon God. You might answer, "Well we can do that without believing in a Sabbath." Yes, but God has set apart a particular day. The early church recognized the pattern of one day in seven as a Sabbath's rest as they began worshiping on the first day of the week in commemoration of our Lord's resurrection? Where did they get this notion? Is it not true that they recognized the abiding importance of the 4th Commandment? What a glorious blessing that God has given us a day for worship. How our souls have been enriched as we've gathered with the saints to worship.

Consider also the extra time we have on the Lord's Day to pray or to study and meditate upon God's Word. What a blessing to spend these precious moments with our God. It is inconceivable that a Christian would rather watch a ballgame on Sunday afternoon than spend time with Christ. It is possible to glory in your liberty to the detriment of your soul. God has provided this day that His people might be more holy. R.L. Dabney wrote, "It is historically true that the vitality and holiness of the church are usually in proportion to its reverence for the Sabbath. The Sabbath-keeping churches and generations have been the holy and zealous ones" (Dabney, Robert L., Discussions of Robert L. Dabney. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust. 1967, page 541).

Finally, consider the spiritual benefit of submission to all the Divine ordinances. When God commands us to sanctify one twenty-four hour day to Him He is declaring His sovereign prerogative over time and His sovereign dominion over us. Our submission to Him is a declaration of His sovereign right over our lives. Such submission is always beneficial for us as we humble ourselves beneath His dominion.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 4

We've been examining the wonderful blessings that come from keeping the Sabbath. God's laws are not designed as a curse for us but blessings given for our good. God is kind and gracious and we must receive His laws as tokens of His goodness. As I've pointed out, God gave us the Sabbath because it is fitted to our nature and condition. To reject the Sabbath is to bring detriment to both body and mind.

The Blessing of a Godly Testimony

In this fourth installment concerning Sabbath blessings I'd like us to consider the blessing of a Godly testimony. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). We live in a thoroughly secularized society. Because of the remants of our Christian heritage many people do not have to labor on Sunday. Government offices are closed, educational facilities are closed, and most business are closed. Most people simply see it as a day off and they spend it in various ways according to their personal desires. Few see it as a Sabbath's rest. What a testimony it is for them to see you and your family honoring this day. Sadly, it is often hard to identify God's people today. In days gone by, you could easily recognize a Christian family on Sunday morning. Their dress indicated they were going to something important. Going to worship was not like going shopping or going to the park. Every one who saw them knew exactly where they were going. When we leave the house on Sunday morning our neighbors should not mistake what we are doing. And they should witness that, as God's people, we see this day as a special day. Do your activities on Sunday demonstrate to the world that you serve the Lord Jesus Christ? When our children were young their friends knew that this day was not a day that they played outside. It was a testimony to their friends that we are the people of God, and it was a testimony to our children as well. What a testimony it is to lost family members when you humbly excuse yourselves from family activities that violate the separation of this day. How many lost husbands or wives have been converted as they witness their mates faithfully honoring this day? And what a testimony it is when the world sees us observing this day with great joy, not as a day filled with harsh rules and regulations that bind and restrict us, but a s a blessing from God full of joyous delights. "For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being" (Romans 7:22 ESV). As I pointed out in one of my earlier posts, it is true that we seek to glorify God every day, but God has set apart one day as being holy, distinct, and separate. As we order our lives for the keeping of this day we must keep in mind how our lives might benefit others. What greater benefit than demonstrating before the lost that we serve a good and gracious God in whose service we delight. May we demonstrate before them the joyous liberty we have as we faithfully honor this day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 3

As I pointed out last time, the Sabbath is a declaration of God's sovereignty over time. In obeying the Sabbath we are declaring that God is supreme over every aspect of our life. As human beings we tend to fill our lives with created things rather than the Creator. This is idolatry. For some, work becomes all encompassing, For others, the pursuit of pleasure and enterntainment becomes a savory delight that gains a grip upon their lives. While work is a blessing from God and recreation is an enjoyment and token of God's grace upon us, when these things control us they become sin. God has declared one day in seven as distinct and separate--a Sabbath's rest; a ceasing of these activities for a whole day. He is telling us that these things must not rule us. When we declare that every day is the same we are declaring our sovereignty over God. For those who declare that for the Christian every day is filled with worship they miss the point. While it is true that we live each day to God's glory, God has declared that one day in seven will be set apart from our normal daily activities.

One of the benefits of the Sabbath is in the surrender of our lives to God's design. God says this day is set apart. Some might balk at such control over our lives. We want absolute autonomy and liberty. That is why Sabbatarians are often accused of legalism. We don't want to be restricted from watching football on television or playing a video game. We don't want to be restricted from making Sunday an extension of Saturday. The Sabbath is a reminder that life isn't about self. As we look away from self we can see the Sabbath as a wonderful opportunity to serve others Many of the confessions of faith add "works of necessity and mercy" to the proper observance of the Lord's Day.

The Blessing of Mercy

One of the aspects of the Sabbath was the idea that all deserved this day of rest. The 4th Commandment speaks of slaves and strangers and visitors. It even included the animals! Refraining from shopping or eating at restaurants is an expression of our desire to provide a Sabbath's rest to others. It is a denial of our selfish interestes for the sake of others. It is a wonderful expression of mercy. You might argue that the businesses are going to be open anyway. This may be true, but are you going to contribute to their sin. Will you deny yourself for the sake of others?

The Sabbath opens many other opportinities to serve others. Jesus healed on the Sabbath and offered mercy to those in need. Don't forget, "the Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27). Perhaps the Sabbath might provide occasion for you to visit the sick or lonely and enjoy the blessing of being used of God to bless others. Hospitality is a wonderful activity for the Sabbath. Our church ends the Sabbath with a fellowship meal. Our ladies provide wonderful dishes (prepared before the Lord's Day) as expressions of their love and service to others, and we fellowship with one another, often setting aside our own selfish interests in order to enter into the lives of others and listen to their concerns. Even the cleanup is an expression of service and selflessness.

Thus the Sabbath is a wonderful blessing and opportunity to step outside ourselves in service to others. To spend this day in self-indulgence is to rob ourselves of the blessings of the Sabbath.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 2

In my previous post I began describing the wonderful blessings that flow from keeping the Sabbath. Presuming that the principle of setting apart one day in seven is a part of the moral law and a precept to be obeyed by the church, what should our attitude be regarding it?

The nature of Christian conversion involves the transformation of the heart of a sinner. He no longer hates God as his enemy but loves Him and desires to please Him with his life. He sees Jesus Christ as most precious and savors his relationship with Him, fleeing from anything that might hinder his pursuit of Christ. As I stated in my previous post, the Law of God, summarized in the Ten Commandments, is God's standard of obedience. The believer sees God's Law as the glorious reflection of God's holy character and seeks to conform his life to it. As a part of the New Covenant God has written His Law upon our hearts. "I will put my law within them, and on their heart I will write it" (Jeremiah 31:33). Among other things, this means our hearts have been changed with a disposition to love God's Law. His Law is no longer seen as a burden to us. The Apostle John wrote: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1John 5:3). This is the nature of Evangelical Obedience. We obey God, not out of a slavish fear of His condemnation, but out of the shear joy of pleasing Him. We obey Him, not necessarily to receive anything from Him, but simply because Christ has captivated our hearts and we love to obey His Law.

The Blessing of Obedience
The love of God and His Law makes observing the Lord's Day a wonderful blessing. We don't see it as a burden to restrict us but a wonderful means of reflecting God's holiness. There are so many ways the Sabbath reflects God's holy character. It reflects God's sovereignty over time, as He has determined, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work. . ." (Exodus 20:9-10). We joyously submit to His dominion. We can also see God reflected in the various dispensations of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given at creation and so in the Sabbath we celebrate God as our Creator. The Sabbath was affirmed at Sinai as a part of the Moral Law so in the Sabbath we celebrate God as Law Giver. At the resurrection of Christ the Sabbath was again affirmed and the day was changed as we celebrate our great God as Covenant Keeper and Redeemer. Finally, as we look to our blessed hope in Christ and our final Sabbath's rest, we celebrate God's ultimate restoration of all things in Christ. Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ and our joyous expecatation and anticipation of the full accomplishment of our redemption.

Observing the Sabbath must never be seen as a burden but a glorious act of obedience as we celebrate all that God has done for us in Christ. And as we read in Isaiah 58:13-14, as we find delight in the Sabbath we find ever sweeter delight in God.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 1

There are few subjects in the church today that garner as much controversy as the issue of the Sabbath. People line up on both sides of the debate. The question is, who is right? This is no small matter. If the Law has not been abrogated the flagrant disregard of the 4th commandment is a matter of great sin, and if it has been abrogated Sabbatarians are guilty of improperly binding men's consciences. Sadly, in my experience, it would seem that far too many have chosen their position without ever making it a matter of serious study. Far too many Christians today find it convenient to simply follow the pattern of our secular culture. I'm aware of the position of those holding to New Covenant Theology and I disagree with their hermeneutics and their conclusions, but at least they've given themselves to serious study on the issue. Much hinges on a proper understanding of the relationship of the Law and the Gospel. Most of us would agree on the purpose of the Law in convicting the sinner and driving him to Christ? Most would agree that the Law is God's standard of holiness, reflecting His holy character, and that the disobedience of God's Law is His standard of judgment. Most would agree that Jesus was made under the Law and met the Law's demand of perfect obedience. The question is, what is God's standard of holiness after conversion? Has His standard changed? In Romans 7 Paul (the believer) speaks of his struggle with obedience to the Law of God. To what Law is he referring?

Much could be argued on the subject of the non-abrogation of the Law and the perpetuity of the Sabbath, but for the purpose of this blog entry (and at risk of immediately alienating some readers) I'm going to presuppose the perpetuity of the Sabbath. I want to focus on the blessing of God's gift of the Sabbath to man. I'm afraid that too often those who hold to the 4th commandment are unfairly labeled as legalists; a caricature that reveals an ignorance of the true nature of legalism. Legalism in its truest definition is looking to the Law as the basis of justification. Many who oppose the Sabbath call it legalistic because they consider it harsh, binding and restrictive rather than a blessing; something to be received with delight and thanksgiving. I want to describe why we should look at the Sabbath as God's gift and why we should observe it with delight. "If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure, And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isaiah 58:13-14).

What are some of the ways God has provided the Sabbath as a blessing? This will be the first installment on this subject.

First, consider our humanity. How has God created us? What are the rythms of life? God created us to work. Work is a gift, not a curse. But were we designed to work nonstop? Can we learn anything from God's creation of time upon the earth--days and weeks and years Have we not been created in such a manner as to labor during the day and sleep at night? In fact, our bodies will not allow us to disregard this pattern. Extended sleep deprivation can even lead to death. Is there anything significant about God's creation of a seven day week? Is there anything significant about His example of creating the world in six days but reserving the seventh for rest? Can we disregard this pattern without doing harm? To many, especially in our secular world, the Sabbath seems like a wierd, outdated practice reserved for religious fanatics. The truth is the Sabbath is a day of rest for our good and the disregard of it is detrimental to our wellbeing. It was established at creation and reiterated as a part of the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath has a prominent place in the Old Testament but is not abrogated in the New Testament. Jesus and Paul critiqued the Sabbath practices of their day while at the same time observing and affirming the Sabbath as normative for God's people. We need this day of rest as an essential element of our life. It should be seen as a rich blessing from God, not an inconvenience or obstacle to our own desires.

I will continue with this subject in my next post.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan Crisis

As I see the tragedy unfolding in Japan many things come to my mind. First and foremost, there is great sadness over the suffering of so many who have had their lives suddenly turned upside down. I pray for God's mercy upon Japan in the coming days. But I can't help but consider how vulnerable man is upon the earth. Japan is a wealthy, industrialized nation. They are proud, independent, and satisfied. But suddenly, and without warning they were hit by the most powerful earthquake they have ever experienced (and they have seen many) followed by a giant tsunami that destroyed what the earthquake left behind. And now, as I write this blog entry, one of their nuclear reactor complexes is threatening a meltdown with radiation already leaking into the atmosphere. Their stock market is plummeting and experts are wondering how their economy will survive. All of this happend suddenly, unexpectedly, and completely out of their control. "For when they are saying, 'Peace and safety'!; then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape" (1Thes.5:3).

Surely we serve a mighty, all powerful God who rules over all of His creation. He raises up and brings down. All of the mighty nations are but dust to Him. "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold He lifts up the islands like fine dust" (Isaiah 40:15). Will Japan take notice? Will they forsake their powerless Buddah and turn to the living God? We can only pray that God will use this disaster as a means of drawing them to Christ.

There is another lesson we must learn from this tragedy. The United States is also a wealthy, industrialized nation. We are also proud, independent, and satisfied. And we are foolish to think that we cannot be suddenly and unexpectedly brought down to the dust in a moment of time. Will we learn anything from this? Will we see just how frail man is upon this earth? Will we take notice that there is an almighty God who rules this world? Will we have to experience His wrath personally before we take notice? Sadly, even as the mountains crumble around them, many will not repent. Oh that God might show mercy upon our generation.