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Sabbath Principle - 5. Creating an experiment in keeping the Sabbath

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Creating an experiment in keeping the Sabbath!

Colossians 3:1-17

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.     Colossians 3:16 NIV

For the month of June we have embarked on a study of the Sabbath principle found most notably within the Decalogue as the Fourth Commandment. In Exodus 20:8-11 (NIV) we read this:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

As we dug into this subject within the pages of Scripture, I highlighted 10 characteristics of the Sabbath rest. Let these words jog your memory: Gift, rest, memorial to our redemption, memorial to creation, preparation, an obedient people, worship and fellowship, delight, feasting, time management in keeping Christ first.

Now, I don’t know if God’s Spirit has moved you an inch or a mile in regard to remembering and honoring the Lord’s Day, but I do want to issue this caution:

We must be very careful if we are tempted to conclude that we know better than God about our need to practice the Fourth Commandment. Be very careful about disregarding it as a gift for our personal lives and for those under our care. In God’s compassionate wisdom He has given us the Fourth Commandment. And we are wise to incorporate the Fourth Commandment into our weekly schedule.

1. We are wise to do so because as human beings saddled with a sinful nature, we need to consistently realign our focus on Christ. And what better day to do that than on Sunday? In the rough and tumble of driving through the rugged terrain of this world, our hearts are bumped out of alignment in short order. We need daily to surrender to our Lord’s realignment program, which I understand as a daily reading and meditation on God’s Word and a time for conversation with our Lord in prayer. We need weekly to give our lives a rest and refocus on our priority relationship with Christ. Daily we do minor realignments. Weekly we do a full orbed realignment.

I believe we are wise if we recognize our need for these regular alignments and engage in the process according to God’s plan. The Sabbatical cycle provides the perfect opportunity for this spiritual and physical realignment to the Biblical priorities God has given us.

2. Also, we are wise to incorporate the Fourth Commandment into our weekly schedule so that our sensitivity to godly pleasure is renewed. The weekly Sabbath rest is a positive counter cultural strategy. The world is trying to squeeze us into its mold. The prince of darkness has a strategy to desensitize us to the joys of godliness, righteousness, purity, grace - everything that belongs to God. His desensitization strategy includes bombarding us with a barrage of thrills. The sad result is addictions that not only fail to thrill us, they enslave us and destroy our ability to enjoy the beauty of our Lord and the natural gifts He has entrusted to us.

I hope to comment more on this renewal and recapturing of godly pleasures.

3. Further, we are wise to joyfully and purposefully incorporate the Fourth Commandment into our weekly schedule because in so doing we create one of the most effective means of giving witness to our family, neighbors and friends that Jesus Christ is our Lord. Folks, I am convinced that our testimony can be strengthened as we come to hold a conviction about how we spend the Lord’s Day to Christ’s honor.

For starters, to make it a commitment to faithfully keep the Lord’s Day set apart for the Lord is grounded in our faith in God. Sabbath keeping, that is, resting from our normal labors on the Lord’s Day, is hugely counter-intuitive. How can we benefit financially from not working on Sunday? Well, we may not. However, if we enter our work week both physically rested and spiritually renewed, it is very likely we will be more productive in our labor, which just may be rewarded financially. Bottomline, it is an act of faith or obedience to God to reserved Sunday for God’s agenda and not ours.

Just in taking on that perspective means that when you are asked how you spend your Sundays or your weekends, you can give testimony to the practice of gathering with your brothers and sister in Christ to give thanks to God for all the goodness you have received from Him.

Your consistent practice of coming to be with God’s people in worship will have a significant impact on our effectiveness in sharing the Gospel.

In essence, I’ve added three more features to the richness of the Fourth Commandment. #11. A day to realign our focus on Christ. #12. A day for our sensitivity to godly pleasure to be renewed and restored. #13. A day that increases our effectiveness in giving witness that Jesus Christ is our Lord.

Now, before we dig into our text for today, I would like to revisit the importance of preparation in making Sabbath keeping most beneficial. In our first study we looked at Exodus 16 where we saw the first mention of the word Sabbath. The children of Israel had been rescued out of Pharoah’s burdensome slavery and a few days following the crossing of the Red Sea, God gave His people a weekly day of rest associated with His giving of manna in the morning.

God instructed Israel to not gather manna on the Sabbath. In fact, there wouldn’t be any even if they tried. Instead, they were to collect twice as much on Friday so they would have food to eat on Saturday.

The principle of preparation for the Sabbath is vitally helpful to us if we want to gain the most from this gift that God has given to us. For years I have been encouraging you to prepare for Sunday worship. The sermon texts for upcoming sermons have been posted in the bulletin and now more recently posted to our web site. In the past few months we have been posting to our web site the words to the songs we will be singing on Sunday.

I have commented frequently that in your preparation for worship that you come ready to express a praise to God as part of your worship. And many of you have been doing that.

Well, today is a good day to find out how effective my admonishments have been regarding preparation for worship.

I would like to take a very quick survey. My survey involves three questions. Each can be answered with a raised hand. But, I want to protect your privacy as best as possible when you answer these question, so I’ll be asking you to answer them with your eyes closed.

Now, the context for my survey question has to do with the emphasis I have been placing on preparing yourself for the worship service. So, each of my survey questions can be answered with a raised hand for a yes” and do nothing for a “no.” Again, the context has to do with what you did to prepare yourself for this (today’s) worship service.

So, after I have fully stated the question, I’ll ask everyone to close their eyes. Bowing your heads is optional, but it may reassure the persons next to you that you aren’t peaking. But then, how would they know?

1. So, my first survey question. Did you pray at any time during the past 6 days (that would be from Monday morning until you left for church this morning) for any part of this worship service? That could be praying for the preacher, praying for yourself as a worshiper, praying for the musicians or praying for someone you have invited to attend one of our worship services. So, did you pray for this worship service at any point during this past week? Do you understand the question? As part of your preparation for worship this morning, did your pray for this worship service? Close your eyes and if “yes,” raise your hand.

2. My second survey question. Did you prepare yourself for this worship service during the past week by either previewing the songs we sang by going to our website to view them or by reading the sermon text that your pastor is preaching on today? So, did you preview the worship songs for today or the sermon text for today? Close your eyes and if “yes,” raise your hand.

3. My third survey question. Did you alter your Saturday evening activities at all last night with the thought that you wanted to bring yourself to this worship service with your most alert mind and rested body so this would be the highlight event of your week? Actually, what I’m looking for is, did you shape your Saturday night schedule with Sunday morning worship in mind? Close your eyes and if “yes,” raise your hand.

Thank you. You see, if we are going to take the Sabbath principle seriously and keep the Lord’s Day set apart for delighting in the Lord, resting from our labor, I believe preparation is essential.

Not only is this little survey instructive to me about my effectiveness in my urging you to a specific course of action, this little survey gives you an opportunity to evaluate your commitment to worship.

As we approach our text from Colossians 3, here is the overriding question that hovers over this text as we examine it: Can you think of a better day than Sunday to put the imperatives within this Scripture into practice? Now, lets briefly look at our text.

Colossians 3:1-17 (NIV)

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Notice our identity:

1. We have been Raised with Christ to new life

2. We Died with Christ to our obedience to sin

3. We are Hidden with Christ in God

4. Christ is our life

Because of Christ, we are new persons. We have a whole new life that is in Christ and all about Christ. And, on the basis of this new relationship and identity, Paul then gives us some imperative instructions. First,

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

Because of our identity in Christ, we have a responsibility to participate in shaping that identity. In the context of putting off our old self which continues to stick to us like glue, Paul issues two strongly stated commands.

1. Put to death any thought that distorts God-honoring beauty and pleasure or that displaces God’s rightful place in our lives. He calls this displacement of God idolatry.

2. Rid our hearts and mouths of any attitude or word that distorts God-honoring beauty and pleasure or that displaces God’s rightful place in our lives.

So, whether it is a thought, attitude or word that springs from our earthly nature, we are charged with the responsibility of getting rid of it, of putting it to death.

Romans 1:23-26 illustrate idolatry, it illustrates the exchange or displacement of God for created things.

23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.

Paul is saying that as persons who now find their life in Christ, we must aggressively resist and fight any temptation to follow the dictates of our old sin nature by exchanging God’s rightful place in our lives with things.

Now back in our Colossians 3 text, Paul begins to shift the focus from our individual life to our corporate life as Christians. He helps us see that people from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities have been transformed by Christ, thus, making us brothers and sisters with all who are in Christ.

9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

In the process of shifting from the individual in Christ to the church, Paul’s focus also shifts from putting off the old self to putting on the new self. This is, I believe, a significant combination. While speaking of us as a body of believers, Paul is now commanding us regarding what we are to be wearing.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

The context is clear and unavoidable. Such instructions like these should contribute to our holding to a high view of the church. What I mean by that is this: If because of my relationship with Christ, you are now my brother or sister, I should treat you as a brother or sister. I can’t just walk away from you. In fact, I need to be moving towards you in relationship.

And here Paul describes what that looks like. As a people who have been called out of this world’s system and are deeply loved by God, we have every reason to direct our thoughts, words and attitudes so that our actions toward our family members will be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient.

Paul’s conversation about forgiveness is highly instructive. He essentially says that even as brothers and sisters in Christ we are going to occasionally offend each other. But, what is the antidote? It is to intentionally predispose ourselves to be ready to forgive.

Just think of how such a disposition would change everything in our family life, be it in our homes or within the church family. I’m prepared to be offended because I’m predisposed to be forgiving.

Yesterday, I witnessed a close call right out here on 116th. A driver of one vehicle started moving his car into the path of another. Had adjustments not been made by both parties, we would have had a crash. Now, quite obviously, one of these drivers was in the wrong. But, what was painfully clear was that the offended party was not prepared to be forgiving. Rather, he was well prepared to be offended, so well prepared was he, that it was like he had a well-planned out response that he could shout at the top of his lungs without missing a beat. The inclusion of four letter expletives peppered his explosive monologue that flowed with apparent ease.

Paul says that kind of disposition we need to rid ourselves of and set ourselves to be ready at a moments notice to be patient, kind and forgiving.

Now, here’s the question. What is the context in which such instructions can be obeyed? Remember, Paul is speaking to God’s people.

I suggest that these instructions can only be put into practice when we are together as the body of Christ. The same is true for what Paul says next.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

I am suggesting that these verses, going back to verse 12, are our marching orders for how we should be spending a portion of our Lord’s Day together.

You see, holy assembly is part of practicing Sabbath rest. But, when sinners spend much time together, we will discover things that irritate and offend. But, such discovery is not an excuse for avoiding the family we are called into. Rather, it is the opportunity for us to grow into the body we have been called to be; A body that reflects well on our Lord; A body that needs all of its members in order to properly function.

Therefore, I make this appeal. Please seriously consider making a commitment to remembering the Lord’s Day and keeping it set apart for the Lord. I want to urge you to revisit your theology of the church and how you spend Sundays. We have an opportunity to grow strong as a body, but we need to be gathered together for more extended periods of time. Sunday is a perfect day to make that happen.

Next Sunday some of us will experiment in practicing Sabbath rest. You can be part of that by signing the sheet in the back or writing the word Sabbath by your name on the registration sheet. Let’s plan to share a meal together following the Sunday School hour and gathering in groups to converse.

I recognize we may need some assistance in how to do this, so we will have some conversation helps. But, let’s reserve at least until 2:00 PM next Sunday to hang out together and practice some of the things we’ve learned about Sabbath rest.


Excerpt from Focus on the Family during the week of June 23-27, 2008 with guest Archibald Hart

How do we recover the ability to enjoy life as God intended? Archibald Hart in Recapturing the Joy has found that our capacity to experience pleasure is diminished by over stimulation of the pleasure center in our brain. The official name for this condition is Anhedonia. This over stimulation happens with an overload of arousal and rapid bombardment of excitement and predisposes us to a host of addictions.

Evidence of Anhedonia is when ordinary activity no longer gives us pleasure so we must push excitement to the extreme. It is when the endless pursuit of pleasure leaves us numb.

An-hedonism literally means no pleasure. It is the gradual shutting down of the brain’s pleasure system because it is over used and over stimulated. At a certain point that shutdown is so critical that it becomes clinical depression. Symptoms include apathy and being bored.

Children need boredom more than oxygen and water. They need to appreciate boredom. That’s where they learn to be creative and use their imagination.

Parents contribute to anhedonia in their children when they are too busy themselves to guide their children in the appreciation of boredom.

Parents need to limit the amount of excitement their children get access to. The tendency in our culture today is that we are over stimulating our children and in the process destroying their capacity to experience pleasure in the little things of life.

We need to give the opportunity for the creative and imaginative part of our brain to develop.

How do we prevent anhedonia from developing in us?

1. Limit the amount of excitement because we have to recover the pleasure center. We all have to do recovery work by seeking the right sorts of pleasures.

2. Recapture the joy of little things.

3. Control your adrenaline. It is the adrenaline excitement that gets a lot of us.

4. Humor is a tremendous healer. Whenever you are laughing, your pleasure is the right sort of pleasure. It is an antidote to stress and cortisal.

5. Develop your gratitude. Count your blessings.

6. Master meditation and relaxation. Learn how to be still and quiet. That may mean to revise some of our worship practices.

7. Make space for things that matter, like time together as a family. Recapture our connectedness.

The problem with most of our unhealthy pleasures is that it isolates us. The things that connect us to people are good and healthy pleasure.

From Saturday to Sunday worship

I have been asked to speak to the question, How and when did the Saturday Sabbath become the Lord’s Day on Sunday? Attached to that question is in what sense is Saturday Sabbath like and dislike the First Day of the week Lord’s Day?

What do we know about the transition from Saturday to Sunday as the Christian’s day of worship? Well, we know that it happened and that Sunday worship was grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ as it was the first day of the week that He rose from the dead. But, as to the process of transition, we have limited data to work with. So, we are left with theories about how it happened.

Consider this. As a Christian, Sabbath-keeping-Jew attending synagogue worship on Saturday, under what circumstance would the synagogue have welcomed making Christ the centerpiece of their worship?

Only if the leadership of the synagogue had converted to Christ along with a significant portion of the membership. Right? Admittedly, many Jewish congregations did convert to Christianity en mass, particularly on Pentecost. But, for those synagogues that were still pre-Christian in their worship, such a worship service would have been quite unfulfilling to the Christian Jew. Those Christians would have gathered at an additional time, if not instead at another time in order to share the joys of their salvation with their brothers and sisters in Christ. And, when we consider Gentile Christians who did not have any background in the Jewish Sabbath, they would not have had tradition holding them to a Saturday worship. If worship for Christians was Christ-centered, it isn’t hard to believe that they would want their day of worship to celebrate His resurrection, which happened on Sunday and to commemorate Pentecost, which happened on Sunday.

In Acts 20:7, nearing the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, probably in the year A.D. 57, Paul stopped in Troas and gathered with the Christians there on the first day of the week to break bread. So, within 25 years of Christ’s resurrection, Christians were keeping the Lord’s day and incorporating communion as part of their assembling together.

Acts 20:7 (NIV) 7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.

Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 16:2 (NIV) 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

If the Christians in Corinth were not already in the practice of meeting on the first day of the week, why would Paul have picked this day to set aside an offering?

The Pulpit Commentary on Acts says this:

The following description, given by Justin Martyr, in his second Apology to Antoninus Pius (or Marcus Aurelius), of the Church assemblies in his day, not a hundred years after this time, is in exact agreement with it:—“On the day which is called Sunday, all (Christians) who dwell either in town or country come together to one place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read for a certain time, and then the president of the meeting, when the reader has stopped, makes a discourse, in which he instructs and exhorts the people to the imitation of the good deeds of which they have just heard. We then all rise up together, and address prayers (to God); and, when our prayers are ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president, to the best of his ability, offers up both prayers and thanksgivings, and the people assent, saying ‘Amen.’ And then the distribution of the bread and wine, over which the thanksgivings have been offered, is made to all present, and all partake of it.” He adds that the elements are carried to the absent by the deacons, and that collections are made for poor widows, and orphans, and sick, and prisoners.

In a letter written by Pliny to Trajan in A.D. 112, he refers to Christians gathering on Sunday mornings for worship.

Paul Jewett, in his book on The Lord’s Day, writes:

“Christians worshipped together on the first day of the week because the risen Lord appeared to them on that day. And the heart of this worship was an evening fellowship meal – later transposed to the morning – since this was the context in which the first appearance of the risen Lord to His gathered disciples took place.”

“The weekly character of the worship of the church obviously rests upon the Jewish sabbatical division of time. . . . Both the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day occurred as a weekly interruption of the ordinary course of life that the people of God might rejoice in the Lord and have fellowship with one another in acts of corporate worship.” (Jewett, p.73)

It is clear that the Jewish Sabbath provided a foundation for Lord’s Day worship. With the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the focus of worship changed for the Christians. Rituals that would point to Christ’s first coming had been fulfilled and became unnecessary. Some, like Passover were transposed into Communion with Christ fulfilling the role of the Passover Lamb.

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