Friday, December 05, 2008

Loving the Sabbath, Hating my Sinfulness

All week long I wait for the Sabbath with such wistfulness that when it finally comes I realize that I longed for it too intensely. Now that it has finally arrived, I take it for granted and am aware of my confinement. I cannot do what I want to do. There are only so many activities or thoughts that are allowed to me on this holiest of days.

As the sun set I worried about the many details of keeping the Sabbath holy. I decided not to worry about the details of Sabbath keeping, but rather, to focus my attention on my relationship with Christ. Let Christ take care of how I keep the Sabbath holy.

I can worry about whether the house is ready for the Sabbath; it is not; it rarely is. I can worry about what I'm going to do when I am not in church and the Sabbath hours find me, once again, on my own with too many hours to experience while it is still Sabbath.

You have to admit, the Sabbath is--pardon the expression--the oddest of all the commandments. For example, today I thought that if I purposely delay my observance of the Sabbath by a minute or 10 or 60, have I invalidated the remaining 23 hours of Sabbath still in play? Unlike the commandment to not kill, steal, take God's name in vain, etc., once you break those commandments, you have broken the entire commandment and not just part of it. But the Sabbath, you see, is one long 24 hour experience. You are then able to break it or observe it once an hour, or perhaps more than that or less than that it you are careful. Or should one foolishly decide that since you've already broken it by not starting it on time or by breaking it half way into it, it is pointless to try to keep the rest of the hours that remain? Some may find the thought improper; others simply practical.

This can't be what God had in mind. Before the Sabbath begins I ask God to make me holy so I can keep his Sabbath holy. I also ask him to fill me with his Spirit and move me to keep his Sabbath holy, and for that matter, to keep all his commandments holy.

I don't know if I've ever really kept the Sabbath as one is supposed to keep it. I'm sure that even in the midst of no work, no play, church all day, or charitable visits to nursing homes, etc., I could very well have been breaking the Sabbath at the same time that I was, with good intent, trying to keep it.

Violations of all the other commandments are truly grotesque violations of some spiritual or basic human value, e.g., respect for one's God or one's fellow human being. But the Sabbath is a different concept all together.

I'm suddenly reminded of a church member who was so concerned about violating the sabbath by being awake during most of it--I guess he knew himself quite well--that he'd go to bed after church so as not to be conscious during the rest of the 7th-day Sabbath. Judging from the sister who told us about it, his intentions were sincere. However, by not engaging in more useful activities during the Sabbath, he was, in fact, breaking the Sabbath. Still, one does spend eight hours sleeping during the normal sleep period of the Sabbath, so why not sleep for the rest of the non-church part of it. I'm just trying to understand this brother's fear of breaking the Sabbath.

I used to feel that after I had spent half an hour or so reading the bible, I could open up my Sabbath post-vesper experience by engaging in cultural and spiritual activities like listening to symphonic music, or watching thoughtful DVDs about stimulating topics. Lately, I find myself unsure of these activities and usually spend the rest of the post-vesper Friday night Sabbath either reading the Spirit of Prophecy, reading the Bible until I get sleepy, or watching the local Christian network, Trinity Broadcasting Network. Sometimes that puts me to sleep, as well. I don't mean its content does, but rather the passiveness of these activities invites sleep quicker than a run in the park would. Of course, the park is deserted at this hour, except for hoodlums and such, so I use that example as an extreme example of a healthy, life-affirming activity on a Sabbath's Friday evening.

Or I can spend the entire Sabbath blogging, as I am now doing, and perhaps that will solve the problem for an hour or so.

Sometimes, though, PBS, has wonderful religion programs. Of course, most of them are pretty liberal, but it's religion, nevertheless. The History channel has a show on Friday nights about Extreme Survival in nature. That's so painful to watch, that I seldom fall asleep watching it.

Oh that God would have mercy on me and enable me to keep the Sabbath without being self-conscious about it. How wonderful if I could offer a Sabbath full of devotion by keeping the Sabbath enjoyably, and finally, lovingly. Amen.

4 comments: said...

You wrote, "Violations of all the other commandments are truly grotesque violations of some spiritual or basic human value, e.g., respect for one's God or one's fellow human being. But the Sabbath is a different concept all together."

I agree, there is something different about the Sabbath commandment. It is special, in a way. Most of the other commandments involve moral principles that some men, even apart from the Word of God, can figure out. Most societies for example know that murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, adultery is wrong, even societies that do not have the Bible. But man cannot figure out, apart from the Word of God, that he should observe the seventh day of the week as a Sabbath to God, a day of rest from the burden of the work week and a time to draw closer to God. This is one commandment that cannot be figured out by man apart from God's Word.

I think the lesson here is that we need to believe what God says, which is one definition of faith. In other words, the real spiritual and moral principle behind the Sabbath command is the faith to believe what God says. In that sense, the Sabbath tests our faith.

We can see that it is a test by the fact that the majority of people who know about the Bible and the Ten Commandments do not keep the Sabbath. They may obey commandments against murder, adultery, etc. but they do not have the faith to believe what God says when He commands us to rest on the seventh day. They find ways to reason around it so they can do what they want.

The Sabbath should not be a burden. Look at it as a learning experience, just as you would if you were learning a sport or how to play a musical instrument. As you keep the Sabbath you will learn more and more how to keep it better and enjoy it. You will improve with practice.

If you break the Sabbath in the first half hour, just resolve not to make the same mistake again, and do your best to keep the rest of the Sabbath. I am sure that is what God would want you to do.

I myself try to keep the Sabbath, but I make mistakes all the time. Nevertheless, I look forward to the Sabbath and I try to do better.

The Sabbath is a great time to attend church services, to fellowship with like-minded Christians, to enjoy special food with other Christians if possible, to read or study the Bible, to read church literature, to pray, and to think about God and His creation and His way of life. And for those who have a very busy work week, it can be a time to get caught up with some extra sleep.

I think God will respect your desire to please Him and obey Him and will be patient with your mistakes (as I hope He is patient with mine) as long as He sees you have the right attitude and are trying to do the best you can. I think God wants you to enjoy the Sabbath in the right way (Isaiah 58:13-14), and He will give you time to learn the best way to do this.

This physical life is like a school. We are the students, and God is the teacher. He wants us to learn, even from our mistakes.

If in the long run we learn our lessons, God has great rewards in store for us.

Raul Batista (Varonelo) said...

Thank you brother for your excellent blog, Preaching the Gospel. I want to return to it in the future, so I've put a link to it on my blog.

It's been years since I've encountered the Church of God. I'm glad you took the time to leave a thoughtful comment on my blog. I like the comparison you made between Sabbath keeping and learning to play an instrument or learning a sport. Unfotunately, I've never had the natural ability for either, but I did make a connection with learning a new language, which I have a natural ability for.

I will need to carefully read your your reply as it gives lots of good advice regarding Sabbath keeping. I am encouraged that someone took the time to both read and comment with so much detail about something I posted out of a need to make an attempt at keeping the Sabbath meaningfully.

May God continue to bless you in your gospel web ministry.

Anonymous said...

Hello Raul,

I have read several of your posts and understand exactly where you are coming from. I am a 5th generational SDA and have struggled with many of the same issues and questions that you are.

I attended SDA schools through college and the Sabbath day in particular was always a struggle for me. I wanted to keep it, felt the need to keep it, knew the law said to keep it, and yet my mind and thoughts would invariably wander. It seemed that the harder I tried to obey God and EGW the more I would fail to do so.

Of course, the answer is Jesus, but in a way you may not have thought of before. Turn your bible to II Corinthians 3:7 and watch this short video.

After you have watched it please write me back and share your thoughts with me.


Raul Batista (Varonelo) said...

Randy, thank you for taking the time to post a comment. It's interesting that I just happened to have read the text you mentioned during my devotions a day or two ago.

I benefited greatly from the video you speak of. I love that title: Supernatural Transformation & Holiness.

I've often focused on the supernatural nature of the Chritisn life more than is typical.

Lately, I feel like I'm almost at some important junction in my life regarding righteousness by faith and practical Christian living.

I didn't see a link to your blog as I would have liked to have left my response on that space, as well. If you do have a blog please let me know so I can link to yours.

Thank you for being my first "I follow this blog" follower. Thanks also for your interest in other posts of mine. It is much appreciated.

I have received a blessing from your comments and from the link you mentioned.

May God bless you in your Christian experience. I look forward to future encounters with you in cyberspace.