Monday, May 16, 2011

Does Anyone Keep the Sabbath Anymore?

I have been accused by more than one person in the past of possessing a healthy dose of self-righteousness. And, truthfully, as I reflect on my zealous nature, I can't help but think that far too often the shoe fits. I am truly saddened to recognize that many times I have hurt people with my judgmental attitude, though I am glad the Lord has been working on my heart in this area.

I write this preamble because I do not want anyone to interpret what I am about to write through that lens. I know that some will, no doubt, still do so, but I want to try to bathe this post with a great deal of humility. I write, not as one who has arrived or has it all figured out, not as one who is angry or upset, but as one who is sincerely saddened by where we all are when it comes to this topic.

So with that huge caveat in place, one question often comes back to my mind, week after week. It is simply this: are there any Seventh-day Adventists left - especially young Seventh-day Adventists - who still keep the Sabbath?

I realize there are many who still do, of course, and I fully admit that I am less than perfect in this area myself. So, again, I don't write this with a judgmental attitude (at least not consciously, realizing that none of us truly knows our own hearts). But I continue to be saddened, week after week, how there seems to be so few Adventists - especially from my generation and younger - who have a love affair with the Sabbath.

One does not need to scroll down too long on Facebook to realize this. Status update after status update betrays this reality. "Going to see Harry Potter tonight," or "Girls night out!" or, "Shootin' some hoops." The list goes on and on.

A few years ago, when I was giving some young kids Bible studies in preparation for baptism, the response from one of the kids astounded me when it came to the Sabbath study. He came from a fairly "straight-laced" Adventist family, but when I told him that on the Sabbath we probably wouldn't want to play sports like soccer, etc., he responded by saying, "What's wrong with playing soccer in your backyard on Sabbath?" Even though I tried to make it sound positive, saying that when we're in love with God we will naturally want to do other things on Sabbath, I overheard him saying to one of his classmates later in the day, "Pastor Brace says we can't play soccer on Sabbath."

What amazes me even more, however, is just how unashamed people are in their openness to pastors about their Sabbath behavior. A few years ago, I was talking with a pastor friend of mine that I went to seminary with, and he was telling me about the church he was pastoring. On the very first Sabbath he was there, he had a number of his new members - who hardly knew him at all - invite him out to eat at a restaurant for Sabbath lunch. He was baffled - not so much that they actually went out to eat on Sabbath and not so much that they would invite their pastor, but that they would assume, even without knowing their new pastor at all, that he would be open to such an idea.

I, too, have had similar encounters as a pastor. It seems that the frequency of people sharing with me unashamedly about their unorthodox Sabbath practices multiplies with each passing week. And I pastor in "conservative" (at least as far as Adventism goes) northern New England!

Again, I need to reiterate this, just in case someone is feeling beat up or embarrassed: I do not write this with condemnation. I am in no way looking down upon anyone and I don't want anyone to think to themselves, "Oh, no, he will probably think I am going to hell if I tell him what I do on Sabbath." In all honesty, no such thoughts ever come through my mind.

This is because I, too, am saddened by my own Sabbath behavior, my own failure to utilize the day optimally for God's glory and responding to Christ's love. Too many times my own mind wanders on Sabbath - to the Bruins game, to the next camera lens I want to buy, to many things that are irrelevant to what God is inviting me to do.

The truth of the matter is, I have often felt that the way we enjoy the Sabbath is perhaps the most telling reflection of where we are in our walk with Christ. Think about this: God has given us an excuse to leave absolutely everything else behind and spend a whole 24 hours with Him. He actually provides a whole day for us to simply enjoy His presence in fellowship with Him. The rest of the week we are bombarded with work, competition, bills, entertainment; but on the Sabbath, we actually have an excuse to leave all that behind and respond wholeheartedly to His pursuing initiative.

But, instead, what do we do? I often hear, and sadly participate in, these types of conversations many a Sabbath afternoon during lunch: "Let's go play volleyball after this." "What do you think of Obama's chances in 2012?" "So, how is work going?" "Oh, man, my 401(k) is looking disastrous." "Hey, did you hear that so-and-so broke up with so-and-so??" (Of course, then there's the "sanctified" Sabbath conversations where we simply talk about church politics.)

All these are a reflection of where our affections truly lie. Given the opportunity to dwell upon nothing but the beautiful character of Christ, we discreetly take a pass.

Truly, it seems to me that if our hearts were overflowing with love for God - and, again, I completely include myself in this indictment - then we would feel overjoyed with the privilege of being able to saturate our conversations, our activities, our everything, with all things pertaining to God. This is why Jesus proclaimed, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45).

Simply put, that which we love to converse about on Sabbath reflects where our hearts truly are.

Don't get me wrong: this doesn't mean God is asking us to quote Bible verses all day. But oftentimes our Sabbath deportment is akin to a young lady who goes out on a date and all she wants to do is talk about her ex-boyfriend. It would be like a Brit going through the whole of April 29, 2011 without talking at all about the Royal Wedding.

It is no wonder that Ellen White gave this rather pointed advice, "The words and thoughts should be guarded. Those who discuss business matters and lay plans on the Sabbath, are regarded of God as though they engaged in the actual transaction of business. To keep the Sabbath holy, we should not even allow our minds to dwell upon things of a worldly character" (Counsels for the Church, p. 269. Interestingly, after pointing this out, she makes this sobering claim: "Had the Sabbath always been sacredly observed, there could never have been an atheist or an idolater.").

She then goes onto say a few sentences later: "Ministers of Jesus should stand as reprovers to those who fail to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. They should kindly and solemnly reprove those who engage in worldly conversation upon the Sabbath and at the same time claim to be Sabbathkeepers. They should encourage devotion to God upon His holy day."

Of course, where does all this leave us?

Well, whenever I address the Sabbath issue I like to make sure people understand that it is not a day of do's and don'ts and that, to a large degree, how one chooses to honor the Lord during the day is a personal matter. I also recognize that, for many, the day has been presented to them simply as a day of rule-following and the relational aspect of it has been left out. Thus, as a reaction to the legalistic presentation of it that has plagued many of us, we have swung the pendulum the other direction and, in an attempt to rescue it from its rigidity, we make it all about "fun" stuff that we perceive to be relational-building (beach, anyone?).

But, sadly, when we do this, we often fall into the trap of only thinking about relationships on the horizontal level and we completely neglect the vertical relationship. Don't get me wrong: the Sabbath is about strengthening the horizontal relationships for sure, but the optimal way to strengthen the horizontal relationships is by responding corporately to the vertical. In other words, the more we respond to God and view that relationship as the top priority, the closer we come to other human beings who also perceive that to be the most important.

And that's what we're all about, isn't it?

Beyond this, however, I also like to mention that, though the Bible does not give us strict rules to follow when it comes to the Sabbath, it does lay down some basic principles that should inform those things we do engage in. It's really very simple. As far as I can tell, here are the five basic principles the Bible lays out when it comes to Sabbath keeping (these could all be expanded a lot more, but that will have to be for another day:

1. Keep it holy (Exod 20:8). The Hebrew word for "holy" is qadosh, and it means to "set apart" or to "consecrate." It is what God did at the very beginning with the Sabbath - He set it apart and consecrated it. Furthermore, in Exodus 3:5, when Moses came before the burning bush, God told him to take off his shoes because he was standing on "holy [qadosh] ground." This implied that God's presence was there and, thus, when something is "holy," it is consecrated with God's presence.

2. Refrain from work (Exod 20:8-11). There has been great debate as to what constitutes "work," but when Exodus 20:9 says that "Six days you shall labor and do all your work," the word for "labor" is 'abad, which literally means to "serve." The noun form of the word, ebed, is the word that is used for "slave" or "servant." Thus, the "labor" we are to refrain from is that which we are in servitude to. The second word for "work," mela'kah, is the more common idea of work, literally meaning "occupation" or "business." Thus, between 'abad and mela'kah, these two words cover anything from my paid occupation, to my homework as a student, to yard work at home.

Of course, some people like to then ask, "Okay, so is it all right to rake someone's lawn or paint their house as an act of service on Sabbath?" This, it is posited, is a selfless type of work that has its place. But two things: 1. Why not do it on Sunday or another day off? 2. Is this, as an act of "Community Service," just that - "serving/working" for someone other than God? These things are not bad or evil; it's just, again, God wants to give us the full blessing and benefit of Sabbath rest.

3. Leave your buying and selling for another day (Neh 13:15-22). No matter how relaxing it might be to sit in that nice restaurant, sipping an Ice T, do your server a favor and stay away from the marketplace! I realize the argument is that he/she is going to be there making money anyway, whether you go or not, but, at the very least, do not contribute to the tyranny of work and the obsession with money.

4. Leave your selfish pleasures behind (Isa 58:13-14). Isaiah 58:13 tells us to "turn" our "foot" away from "doing [our] own pleasure" on God's "holy day." This doesn't mean the Sabbath should be a drag, of course, and, admittedly, this one can be left open to a lot of interpretation. But I think that, in light of the fact that we are to "consecrate" the day and "keep it holy," this eliminates a lot of stuff, freeing us from the tendency to tickle our own fancies all the time.

5. Do good (Matt 12:12). After a number of "negative" commands, this one is very refreshing and it is one that I often like to ask myself: Jesus said that it is "lawful to do good on Sabbath." This was directly in the context of Him healing people. Thus, am I seeking, on the Sabbath, to encourage someone spiritually, to bring them joy - true joy, not the variety that comes through mindless entertainment - to point them heavenward? Am I seeking to bring happiness to someone's life other than myself?

Thus, all of these five principles must inform my Sabbath activities. I must force myself to slow down and ask, "Does this activity fall within the parameters of these five principles?"

Of course, hopefully I will not even have to force myself to slow down at all because the disposition of my heart will be such that I delight to engage in the things of God naturally - as an outgrowth of my appreciation for the love of Christ.

But I also need to share this in closing: God does not give us the Sabbath commandment that we might try to keep it. He does not lay out the parameters of "proper" Sabbath keeping so that we would become convicted that we should be doing it and then set out to do it. As sinful human beings, we cannot keep the Sabbath, no matter how convicted we are. We can simply recognize that we are helpless to really do it and we need Christ to fulfill it our in our lives.

Thus, these principles actually act as a convicting agent, showing us of our utter failures, pointing us to the fact that our hearts really aren't in the right place and that we need them changed by a supernatural Agent. And we, like Paul, can cry out, "O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24) Then, when we recognize our futility and need, we look to the cross and the tremendous sacrifice made on our behalf - the sinners that we are - and this opens our hearts to Jesus and allows Him to change them. He will then work out His good pleasure in our lives.

And the Sabbath will become a delight.

44 comments:

holamickey said...

Pr. Brace - your musing scratches and itch I have been having in my own life - conversations after lunch on Sabbath about what the next home project or finances or...
I want the best - not just what I "can do" but what I don't do so He can do what He promised.
BTW - read the other week that the London Daily Mail reported a British researcher found that the "majority of us are happiest at 7:26 pm Saturday night." They offered a reason or two... but I say - whether you believe the Sabbath is holy time or not - it is... and after about 24 sacred hours - even without acknowledging it, you are blessed.

Jacki said...

Although I am not following these principles very well myself, excellent post!

Rodlie Ortiz said...

Good stuff....I'm pastoring down here in Florida and hear much the same stuff. It seems like one of the really common things is eating out on the Sabbath...to be honest I find it hard to address it when someone mentions it off hand like that. I've addressed it in sermons and such...but yeah, it seems like it's becoming such a common thing these days.

Kyle Baldwin said...

Shawn,

I commiserate with you on the disregard for the Sabbath. Lately I have felt impressed that I need to be speaking out on this issue or to put it another way to be more direct about how we should guard and keep the Sabbath.

The frightening thing is that improper Sabbath observance is so rampant that it is more the rule than the exception. I am still trying to figure out how best to address this.

When I clear someone for baptism I make certain that they understand the principles that you've outlined but much to my chagrin I have seen some of these same people just a few months later making poor choices on the Sabbath, i.e. working, going out to eat, etc. Sadly these relapses or choices are often influenced by the poor decisions of more established members.

I wish that I knew what to do in these situations. You described a situation where a pastor stated that members openly asked him if he would like to go out to eat on the Sabbath. I have not experienced that but I know that many of my members in both churches do this, but they do not openly talk about it.

I'll just say this. The one thing that convinces me above all else that Jesus is returning soon is the current application of the question Christ asks: "when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

Dean Read said...

Shawn, I enjoyed reading this and appreciate your honesty and humility even revealing your own struggles with Sabbath keeping. I think that this is a necessary dialog and must not be ignored or given faint attention. We all must come to grips with how God views our relationship with Him and our Sabbath keeping. And we pastors must be like Ezekiel, watchmen on the wall, or we will fall short of our calling.

Joel said...

Thank you for presenting such a thoughtful, balanced call for change. I definitely resonate with your message; I know that I personally have been struggling with the same questions. Thank you for the encouragement.

Shawn said...

Reading this motivates me to help Gavin to delight in something other than playing soccer in the back yard on Sabbath! Thanks for blogging these thoughts...

Liliana said...

Thanks for sharing, it is sad to see that even established members of our church make some of these poor choices. Your humility and sincere intentions and concerns are transparent and welcomed.

Travis Patterson said...

Shawn:

Thank you for your profound musings. I have been saddened by this for years as well. The Sabbath is such a beautiful chance for intimacy with God! Two related thoughts have recently impacted me. The first came from Doug Batchelor. He said If we can't give Jesus 24 hours down here on earth, what makes you think we will be happy for eternity in Heaven with Him? Secondly, the idea in Exod 31:17 that God himself is refreshed by keeping the Sabbath with us...WOW! Humbling indeed. This day is a gift. What a blessing to be Seventh-day Adventists and what a beautiful challenge to communicate this wonderful truth!! Thanks again for calling us to a healthy observance of HIS day!

The Mack Attack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Macomber said...

Hey Pastor Brice. A pastor friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and I followed it and felt compelled to respond.

I totally agree with you on the principle of Sabbath keeping, that we have been pulled astray and often make a superficial effort to keeping it holy. But I disagree with the specific examples you use. Man is not made for Sabbath, but Sabbath for man. As Christ Himself reminded us, the greatest commandment is Love. Real, authentic Love. Therefore I see Sabbath as an opportunity to build relationships with each other and with God. I can even tell you specific instances in which I decided to spend my Sabbath alone meditating and conversing with God, and He led me to spend time with friends.

I also believe that the attitude behind why we do things is essential. As Paul reminds us in Romans 14, "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it." Therefore I feel there is nothing wrong with playing (recreational) sports on Sabbath, if the emphasis is on being outside in God's nature and strengthening relationships, not simply competing. It's a fine line, which we all would fail at if God doesn't guard our hearts weekly.

With this attitude I excused going out to eat with friends in college, because, who really wants to eat at the cafe for Sabbath lunch (besides which, the people working there are just like those who work at restaurants, except at the cafe they're more likely Sabbath keepers normally). It was less than ideal, but I didn't have time to maintain that relationship during the week. Initially, it was about honoring God (in a situation where we had no place of our own to enjoy company), but it became just part of the routine, and therefore became a problem, because God was no longer part.

I write all this simply as a reminder that in everything we do, if we live, we live to the Lord. God is the ultimate Judge, so we shouldn't put a stumbling block or cause to fall in our brother's way. Many (especially younger) people get put off by the "don't do this/that" mentality, so I prefer to emphasize the thought "where is your focus and what would Christ want?" If we keep that on our hearts over Sabbath, then our old habits will truly change on their own volition, and we would start to truly keep it.

Shawn Brace said...

Hello everyone, I appreciate ALL of your feedback. It's been great to receive all the affirmation (including stuff people left on Facebook when I linked to it there). I was having serious doubts about whether I should post this because I know it can be a sensitive topic, but I am glad the Lord prompted me to move forward.

Let me try to respond to some of the specifics that people raised.

Micheal: glad I have scratched where you are itching!

Jacki: thanks for your honesty and transparency! All of us could do better, no doubt - not that it is something where we have to earn points with God or anyone else, but even just relationally speaking, God wants more of our hearts.

Rodlie: I usually choose not to say anything when a member of mine brings something up that he/she has done on Sabbath(though I do often try to carefully steer a conversation back to spiritual things if Sabbath conversations take an unfortunate turn) unless I have a great deal of trust established with that person.

Kyle: I hear what you're saying! It is a very delicate process and truly unfortunate that some long-time members are the ones leading new members astray.

Dean and Joel: thanks for your two cents of affirmation.

And Shawn/Kristin(?): making the Sabbath a delight for young people (while avoiding the "do's and don'ts" ditch) is one of the most challenging things to do! I am sure I will see this all the more poignantly as Camden and Acadia get older. I don't know if you have read it, but I just discovered that in the book "Child Guidance," there is a whole chapter on this called "Sabbath - the Day of Delight" (chap. 79). I plan to read this going forward!

Travis: thanks for your perspective also. What Doug Batchelor shared is so true and the "refreshing" element of the Sabbath for God in Exod 31 is powerful! By the way, we went to the seminary together, right??

Shawn Brace said...

And lastly, David: thank you so much for your perspective! I was worried that I was not going to have anyone respond who didn't quite see it the way I do. I am glad you have provided a little feedback that has forced me to dig deeper on this issue.

I agree wholeheartedly that we need to emphasize the relational beauty of the Sabbath primarily. I hope I did that quite a bit in this post (I also have a whole chapter on this slant called "A Day for Us" in a forthcoming book of mine from Pacific Press due out in the fall).

With that being said, I think you would agree that there are certainly "rules" and "parameters" that we naturally find ourselves following (or at least we agree we should follow) when it comes to any relationship. I cannot let the dishes in my sink pile up for days and yet have an easy time convincing my wife that I really love her and just want to hang out and do fun things with her. Sometimes these rules serve as a barometer to indicate to us where our hearts truly are. They are objective standards that rescue us from being deceived by our own hearts and motives (remember, the heart is deceitfully wicked).

This, in fact, is the whole purpose of the law. It is why it is given to sinners. It is not given to us so that we will try to keep it. It is given to us to show that we CAN'T keep it and that we are not where we should be in relation to God. It provides an objective criteria against which we can determine whether we are truly giving God our whole hearts.

The two issues you cited are interesting ones - and classic examples that often come up when I discuss this issue with people. First, I admit there is some gray when it comes to the whole "eating at the cafeteria and using your meal card" vis-a-vis going out to eat on Sabbath. But I think there are some fundamental differences, like the environment in which you are eating (ie., televisions on in a restaurant, music playing, others conversing about non-Sabbath related things [of course, as I already admitted, this can often happen in supposed "Sabbath-friendly" places as well]). Beyond that, I admit that the idea of "paying" on Sabbath at an SDA cafeteria (not to mention employing others to prepare and serve the food) is not ideal, but this is necessary work, I do believe, and so it is not the exact same thing as going out to a restaurant.

Of course, again, we do not want to be legalistic about this whole issue and we don't want to "beat people over the head" with it. This is simply how I have come to terms with this topic. (Continued)

Shawn Brace said...

Now, as it relates to "non-competitive" sports. I understand your argument about being out in nature, fellowshipping with friends, etc., but I think you are being a little too optimistic about the likelihood of these things being accomplished. It is "hard enough" to keep our conversations spiritually-focused when we are sitting at a table, eating lunch, nevermind playing soccer or throwing a football back-and-forth.

I also cannot figure out how to justify playing non-competitive sports in light of the fact that we are to "keep the Sabbath holy," "turn our foot away from doing our own pleasure," and "do good on the Sabbath" (the latter of which was directly connected to healing others and relieving their suffering). Admittedly, the Bible does not directly address the the whole "sports" issue, so it is not an open and closed issue from a biblical perspective, but I do believe if we were to allow the testimony of Ellen White to have an influence on our thinking, we would say that it is pretty clear that sports - no matter what spirit they are pursued in - are not an activity that turn our minds in the right direction.

I realize, of course, that there has been - and continues to be - a lot of browbeating when it comes to Ellen White's writings, but it seems to me that a mature and conscientious Adventist young person, who wants to do the Lord's will first and foremost, will be open to her counsel on this issue.

Specifically, I was intrigued when I came across this quote from her this morning, in pondering your question about sports on Sabbath (I had always been unsure as to how I could justify my views against engaging in sports before, realizing there is a bit subjective. But, again, if we view her testimony as valid [and we should, shouldn't we, since we are Adventists?], I think this is compelling evidence that can protect us from our own deceiving motivations when it comes to what we do on Sabbath).

Notice: "Every working of Christ in miracles was essential, and was to reveal to the world that there was a great work to be done on the Sabbath day for the relief of suffering humanity, but the common work was not to be done. Pleasure seeking, ball playing, swimming, was not a necessity, but a sinful neglect of the sacred day sanctified by Jehovah. Christ did not perform miracles merely to display His power, but always to meet Satan in afflicting suffering humanity. Christ came to our world to meet the needs of the suffering, whom Satan was torturing" {3SM 258.3}

It could be argued, I suppose, that by the term "ball playing" she means competitive sports. But Ellen White was against competitive sports completely on any day of the week (though she did say that she did not condemn the "simple exercise" [ie., the type of ball playing you described on Sabbath] of playing ball), so I am pretty sure the competitive variety was what she was specifically speaking against in the above quote.

Her overall principle in the quote, of course, is that Jesus used the Sabbath to relieve people's suffering - and, thus, seeking our own pleasure, playing ball, swimming, are not activities that help us accomplish this goal.

Again, I believe these parameters are put in place to save us from deceiving ourselves into thinking we are fulfilling the principles that the Bible sets forth.

Would love to get your feedback. Thanks again for the discussion.

Shawn Brace said...

Sorry, just to clarify, I believe that when Ellen White speaks against "ball playing" on Sabbath, she is not simply speaking against competitive sports (since she was against that on any day of the week), but against ALL ball playing, even if it is just a casual game of football on the beach.

Even if it could be argued that she would be all right with "casual" sports on Sabbath, I think her counsel about the "simple exercise of playing ball" applies here as well, though. Notice the whole sentence: "I do not condemn the simple exercise of playing ball; but this, even in its simplicity, may be overdone" (AH 499). Even if I could make the argument that we are just going to play a simple game of football on Sabbath, I think the reality is that it would actually very quickly be "overdone." After all, what red-blooded male can play a game without getting at least a little competitive in his attitude?

Anonymous said...

One challenge, which I never did solve as an SDA, was to stop the list of "do's" and "don'ts" from turning into a list the caused (a) a loss of family time - because it is much harder to get away together for a weekend if your 'do' includes being involved with local congregation activites, and (b) a loss of community connectness, because almost all community activities - especially for children - involve doing things on the "don't" list, such as sports

David Macomber said...

I think you make several valid points, and it's definitely made me rethink what I know of Sabbath. I do indeed agree that there needs to be parameters to how we live our lives and interact with God. Those "rules" are just a way of showing us how to go about it. Just as hooking or slashing are illegal because they should not be a part of hockey, it still needs to be enforced because people get carried away (I'll get to the "competitive sports" bit in a sec).

The environment of the meal issue you bring up is critical in my mind. Ideally (and more possible once I'm out of school and have a place of my own) I think hosting a pre-prepared dinner after church is the best option, as even Jesus does it in Mark 1. You are right, the restaurant environment is distracting. I hope I didn't come off as encouraging eating out, I just was sharing that I felt it is a viable option under certain circumstances.

You quote we should "turn our foot away from doing our own pleasure," so how do you see the limits behind that, since the Psalms are filled with exclamations of how delightful it is to follow God's law? Naturally there is a differentiation between *our* pleasures and *His*, but when we are looking to do good, what do you see as the defining characteristic?

It is possible to do without sports for a day, it's not vital. But then comes the issue of your definition of sport. Is hiking, or even simply "sabbath walks" considered sport? It doesn't involve any balls or other instruments, but it could be just as detrimental as allowing a conversation to go off topic while playing catch. It's not the actions being done, but the words said that are uplifting.

I won't even discuss sports outside of Sabbath, as I feel that's a different conversation. Ellen White also is a touchy subject, and while I have taken the time to start reading her writings and accept her as a prophet, I want to caution you of assuming all Adventists agree with that sentiment. I have met several spiritually-concerned young SDAs who are bitterly opposed to Ellen White, and any argument involving her will simply turn them off. I'm not sure what it's like in Maine, but that's what I've run into in CO and CA.

Back on subject, I agree with your overall principle and have often wanted to say something myself, but I still feel that some of the examples you used were akin to plucking heads of grain, which may be "not lawful on the Sabbath," but that may not have the deeper spiritual ramifications as is supposed.

David Macomber said...

I just realized I'm very "matter of fact" with my final comments (in whole), so I wanted to say thank you for your input and responses. I really appreciate an opportunity to discuss important issues like this.

jse7en said...

Great post! I want to add to this conversation that it would be much easier for people in church to keep the conversation holy if everyone tried to get together outside of the Sabbath hours. If we connected on secular things after bible study or prayer meeting midweek, then Sabbath doesn't have to be the catch-up-on-everything day.

My experience as an SDA so far is that hardly anyone comes to bible study or even to Sabbath School. They don't study scripture during the week, they don't meet with church family during the week, and they don't exercise daily... instead, they save it all up for Sabbath, the one day that God did NOT provide the manna!

Collect your manna all week, and Sabbath will be a joy! and that so-called "don't" list will become rest and sweetness to your soul.

Andrew said...

Sabbath observance needs a good renovation in my book. Personally I am trying to see how this can be achieved in my life.

I do believe that as long as the Sabbath is seen as some arbitrary command from God people will always have issues with it. Of course God has a right to ask us to do anything He pleases--but you shouldn't expect the best adherence if this is the motivation for Sabbath-keeping. Many people who would do nothing unorthodox on the Sabbath cannot wait for it to be over.

Another thing we need to get away from is earnestly repeating wonderful platitudes about Sabbath because, well, that is what we're supposed to say about it.
I have heard people describe the Sabbath is ever more flowery terms that I have struggled to identify with. Hey, I can jump on board if you insist--but I'm not that excited about the day...
(Soon to change by God's grace.)

This may be heretical, but I have found Graham Maxwell's talks about the Sabbath to be the first to give the Sabbath any meaning. I have never heard anything like what he says about the Sabbath before.
After listening to him, for the first time I began to see someone refusing to give up the Sabbath (at the end of time) because of what it represents to them. He tied the Sabbath in beautifully and removed it arbitrary portrayal.

I have a lot to learn.

Andrew said...

I hope the meaning of what I was saying is not lost in the typos.

1. An arbitrary Sabbath will always lack any kind of meaning/sustainable drive to observe it.

2. Repeating ever more earnest "nice things" about the Sabbath (even quoting scripture) will not automatically make people love it more.
You cannot talk people into loving the Sabbath--it has to connect with them personally.

True story:
Where I live, a funeral wake is a fairly raucous affair (alcohol and food etc.). Once a church member lost an immediate relative and was in need of comfort. The wake was at the church member's home on Friday night and the member's family and neighbors came. I had a hard time convincing some other church members to come with me to spend time with the grieving individual. They felt that the atmosphere was not conducive to keeping the Sabbath--and felt guilty staying there (as some of the people were smokers as well).

It was very clear to me that Sabbath was all about being with this particular church member at this time (seeing as how she was also the only SDA in the home--and the only churchgoer for that matter)--but some of the other members were "feeling bad" about the atmosphere and wanted to leave. They said it didn't "feel like Sabbath".
Even I began to second-guess myself a little.

What on earth have we taught people about this day? Where are people getting these ideas?

Kimberly Weich said...

Praise the Lord! You go ahead and write things like this because this is the Lord speaking through you. Awesome. Greetings from the Lighthouse Seventh-day Adventist church in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada. And Happy Sabbath! I will share your blog with my husband. http://lighthousesdagrandeprairieab.blogspot.com

I.M.1 said...

As a 19 year old SDA member at the Battle Creek Tabernacle here in Michigan, I can speak for lots of young people here when we feel that THIS is the most legalistic conference in the SDA church. I'm not blasting the church, at least, I'm not trying to.

No, I love being a part of the SDA church and it's message. I believe one of the reasons that many young people seem to be leaving the church is that we see hypocritical, and critical, people reacting to those newcomers into the church who don't, "dress right, etc." that have no clue. We see people condemn, rather than help those people understand, and we see the newcomers walk right back out the doors not long after they're hearts were set on fire for God.
Another reason I believe droves of young people are leaving is because we are not properly taught how to defend our faith and we are drawn to what the world may offer in terms of ideas and activities (not even really bad things either. As long as satan keeps our attention from God, that's ok with him.)

I've found myself in the "boredom" stage during many Sabbath afternoons. However, I've recently decided that never having read the Bible all the way through, I should read it whenever I could, even throughout the week. And you know what? The week is busy! Sabbath afternoon's are just about all the time I have to read.
If there was some way to "rouse interest" in even simple Bible reading among young people, that would be a huge leap forward.

Anonymous said...

I must admit sometimes we engage in 'holy gossip' which means church politics on Sabbath! Lord save us! ...not to mention that I am on a night shift on a Friday night as I type! Seems like I'll be the first in that brimstone!

Marie Anne said...

Thank you so much Pastor...Excellent post!!!

afwifemomcrafter said...

What a blessed post! Thank you for sharing your heart regarding the Sabbath. We struggle with the Sabbath here in my home. Thankfully, that struggle is slowly becoming less of a struggle and more of a delight.

I read something somewhere that said Sabbath should be the hub of the week. Each day of the week, we should be preparing and looking forward to the next Sabbath. That has changed my thinking of the Sabbath and the weekdays. Thinking about, preparing and then embracing this day that I've been looking foward to all week has been giving me more joy about this day set aside.

Don't get me wrong though, we still struggle as a family. Simple worldly things still call to me and I fail but God is making it easier to say no to my own joy and yes to His ways.

Thank you again for this post. We need a Sabbath revival in our hearts.

Brian said...

Thanks for writing this article. I've been struggling with how to properly keep the Sabbath, and this has given me some encouragement to keep praying and keep trying.

Before I met my wife 7 years ago, I didn't even know what an Adventist was, or anything about the Sabbath other than "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." I grew up in a Baptist church and had been a good Sunday-keeping Christian for most of my 24 years at that point in my life. All of my family, and the majority of my friends are not Adventists, some of them not attending any church at all, so it's been rather difficult for me to unprogram my old ways of going out on Friday nights or on Saturday afternoons, and instead spend that time with God. I've been able to get most of the so-called "don'ts" figured out and I feel I do a good job avoiding them, with the exception of in my mind. I find myself many a Sabbath afternoon sitting around after an afternoon nap, just waiting for Sabbath to be over so I can go out to dinner or watch a movie with friends. I'm still struggling with finding the things I should be doing on Sabbath that would keep my mind from wandering to all the things that can wait until Sunday, or at least until Saturday night.

And I agree with the previous commenter who said church members should get together throughout the week so that Sabbath afternoons aren't the weekly catch-up time and conversations at the lunch table can stay more focused on subjects of a more holy nature. It is hard, though, when church members are spread out over such large distances as has been my experience since joining the Adventist church.

Zibuse Dube said...

Pastor M so excited that the spririt of God led you to encourage us like this, its true, sabbath observance is quite a challenge, the church has compromised the seriousness, and meaning of the sabbath, we are almost handling it as the Sunday churches do on their worship days. We need a revival, a spiritually filled revival, M in South Africa, and we are also struggling to be true worshipers. Sports, hanging out with frends, and even handling business deals are all being practised on sabbath. May God help us we need a reformation! Thank you pastor!

JoHanna said...

Seems we're failing miserably on Sabbath keeping at my house. I know this, would like to improve, but don't know what to do with my young teens. I really love the Sabbath.

Anonymous said...

Pr Brace
I very much enjoyed your your comments. I have a question that is perhaps on a different tanget although still same subject. My husband and I are active members of our local SDA church and my husband is a deacon there.Unfortunately he now views the Sabbath as a major work day for him. At church he has so many tasks to do he rarely gets to even sit down to enjoy any part of the Sabbath School or Service and most of the time I sit alone. I asked a couple over for lunch one week who had been at our church for about 6 months and they didnt realise we were even a couple. For my husband to get a break he would have to not attend or go to another church. I feel very sorry he feels this way and it is discouraging. We are told to be like Mary and not Martha but the Marys cant enjoy themselves without the Marthas doing the work for them.

anthonyrey04 said...

Wow this is very powerful stuff! Thank you very much for posting this. I grew up into a very conservative sda family and I use to keep the sabbath day holy every sabbath mostly because I was scared of my parents. But we all know in time parents get less strict and they let us start making our own decisions and I feel like because they tend to be less concerned now it has made me drift away a little from just church in general. Like I know what I believe and I know the right things to do it just doesn't show anymore because of the concern my parents don't give as much as they use to. It even got to the point where I just got too lazy to go to church and id just sleep in. I'm an not blaming my parents at all but I just feel like in order for US teens to stay active and stay keeping the sabbath day holy we need to stay guilded until we fully understand the true meaning of sabbath. Thank you pastor

Dans400 said...

Its really sad what sabbath keeping has become, i think the older generation have left the us with no example of true faith in God. Here in Africa we are faced with writing exams on sabbath, having to work or lose your job and the likes. It hurts me when members even elders give prayer requests in sabbath school for a child who's writing an exam as they speak. The other day i asked to see the pastor's wife and was told she had gone to work,on sabbath. How can young people stand where the foundation has been eroded?

Sharlene said...

I have read your blog and all the comments and have yet to have anyone tell what ARE acceptable activities to do on Sabbath. The only things that have been said are the "don'ts" (don't play sports, don't eat out, don't speak of politics, etc.). As a child I remember the Sabbath often being a bore because we weren't allowed to do things. Now I have 2 children and they often resent the Sabbath for the same reasons. If the Sabbath is to be a delight, then why do we put so many restrictions? We have become just like the Pharisees in Jesus' times. Lighten up, people! The Sabbath should be a time for families to reconnect. During the week we are all so busy (yes, even my youngest who is almost 10 and goes to an Adventist elementary school has so much homework, my teenage son goes to an SDA academy and he has after school activities, my husband and I who both work to afford Adventist education.....). We are all working so hard to support our Adventist institutions and be "good Adventists" that we sometimes forget what it is to be a good Christian, and the begins AT HOME!! So forgive me if I want to spend time with my husband and children on Sabbath doing something we all enjoy (like going to the park, riding our bikes, swimming, playing disc golf, etc) and building up the familial bonds that will eventually keep my children in church.

Someone posted something earlier that is so true... She said that her husband is so busy working at church on Sabbath that he neglects his family. The only way to rest on Sabbath is to not go to church or attend a different church. How sad! This is not what Jesus intended.

I believe that Sabbath observance is something that is personal between you and God, just like salvation. Would I dare tell someone how to be saved? NO. That is between them and their Lord. Each person must answer to God.

Anonymous said...

I am a single mom with a son in the Adventist school system and one problem I find is that by the time Sabbath comes he has had so much religion in school he seems to want to escape it. He does freely attend Sabbath school and church, but after that he just wants to "relax" and play a video came. The list someone needs to write is what to DO on the Sabbath instead of what not to do. Perhaps what's lacking is the modeling of a holy Sabbath day and being creative as to how to spend it. And what is your interpretation of the often misused passage, the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath?

Kelvin said...

Nice post but I just want to let you know that even if we don't do anything on the sabbath (e.g. working, enjoying in a secular manner e.t.c.) but if we have this attitude of being bored on sabbath days and looking forward to the end of the holy hours, then I think we are just keeping it physically but not mentally and spiritually. I admit, as 17 year old I also fail to keep the sabbath day HOLY. May the good LORD help us to have the mindset of loving to keep the sabbath and not to keep it because our pastor tells us to do so every sabbath.

His Princess said...

I was thankful to see your post. We as humans make errors. I was discouraged just recently when I spoke to one of the leaders and was told it was ok to eat in restaurants on the Sabbath Day and to not create waves about it. It was the first I had heard from the "leader's" that doing this on the Sabbath was ok. I grew up in a very conservative household and it was about serving God and keeping His commandments. God caused some things to happen in our church to show us that He is honored by us keeping the Sabbath Day and He will honor us when we do so. Even if the leaders feel it is ok, we as laypeople can be an example to others. We need to get down on our knees and ask God to impress on us what He wants us to do. Lay it before Him and He will answer.

chrissy said...

I've been arguing with myself for several minutes about whether or not to place this post on a stranger's blog (it was posted on Facebook), as I will be in the minority here, but I honestly think ya'll are barking up the wrong tree.

It is commendable to sincerely search for God's will and strive to follow His commands, and I know everyone is doing their best. But as for me, Sabbath is a day to leave my cares on the doorstep and more fully enter my Father's realm - a realm of peace. Although many things admittedly are not compatible with that peace, one of the biggest things that isn't, is worrying about whether it's "ok" to do something on sabbath or not. I once heard someone wonder if it was ok to get gas on sabbath, when you had planned ahead the day before and filled up, but the drive was long and they ran out anyway. Should they wait by the side of the road till sundown? This may be an extreme example, but it's kinda all just variations on the same theme. How do we make sure we're always within the lines of safety, guarding the edges of the sabbath and our salvation? At least as I see it, the way to do that is to trust God that He has the power to save me, despite my unconscious sins. Also, that He will bring them to my attention as He sees fit and I am ready. "Resting" in that safety is far more beneficial on on Sabbath for me than stressing about what a bad person I really am. Talking about the stresses of my week with my brother is a therapeutic outlet, a connection and luxury that I can't afford the rest of the week, one that others may overhear and think is "worldly." Shall I deprive my mother of my fellowship on Sabbath afternoon because for her eating at home is at the very least stressful because she's entertaining me as a guest, having to heat things up, and having to clean afterwards? Undoubtedly many would say yes, but at least for me, the spirit of sabbath is losing the burdens, kicking back and resting in the fellowship of family and friends, all the while thanking my creator for the beautiful gift of a command to do so. Praise God! I think this may be the reason why the rules of keeping the Sabbath in scripture are simple, and even a bit vague. It is a spirit, not a list. It is deeply personal, as it has everything to do with one's attitude, which often cannot be easily judged by external measures.

So in the end I thank you for your post because it made me think. I hope I haven't offended anyone as that was certainly not my intention. I only want to throw out a slightly alternative viewpoint from another sincere, thoughtful Adventist. In the end I know I could be wrong, too. But (again) praise God that doesn't mean I'm lost. May He continue to work on all of our hearts as He shapes us into better and better creatures.

Tammy said...

This was a great post and comments. I struggle with this in our family also. Some comments asked for "lists" of things we can do especially for children. I can personally recommend a book you can buy at the ABC called How To Help Your Child Really Love Jesus by Donna Habenicht,Ed.D. In the chapter "Sabbath--A Day For Families" She has six pages of lists of Sabbath activities for children and families categorized by age range and type of activities. It is a great reference tool when you have run out of ideas and the whole book is a great book to read!

Nactus Berrilli said...

In my understanding, Sabbath is one of the most personal experiences between humans and the Mighty Creator. Establishing a system of rules and backing ourselves up with words from Hebrew can corrupt the potential meaning of what God, in a personal way, intended for us.


Could we define the word “holy” or “consecrated” in an universal manner? Could we truly understand the meaning of what a “Holy Sabbath” is, to the point of creating pages and pages of lists of things we can or can’t do? What is a traumatizing Sabbath experience for a child if not a set of parents giving her/him seven pages of things to do, and checking to see if she/he faithfully remains on “holy” ground. Where do we get those lists from, if the Bible itself remains so beautifully vague, offering us a personal Sabbatical experience rather than a set of behavioral requirements?


Where between the word “adeb” and “mela’kah” would we put Jesus’ actions of help? Was it more of a “abad” or a “mela’kah” type of work? We know He was working for others, even on Sabbath.

Why is eating out worse than buying a book from the church’s book stand on Sabbath? Why is paying tithe encouraged through a ceremonial event as part of the worship service, on the Sabbath Day? Isn’t that part of dealing with our finances? Why aren’t we sending our money to the church during the week? Let’s include for a second those who work in the multi-media department. If your church is like mine, these guys come in at 6 or 7 o clock in the morning, starting to set up microphones and speakers, cameras and scene light. Isn’t that actually working more on the Sabbath Day than the rest of the week? Why is that justified? What do pastors do on Sabbaths? Do they rest?


According to your title: “Does Anyone Keep the Sabbath Anymore?” it seems like you found a formula that works for keeping the Sabbath correctly. That is encouraging, because for me, religion only taught me that I know nothing about standardized methodology. Take for instance the Old Testament. Killing “bad” people and stoning homosexuals were procedures of cleansing God’s people, whereas Jesus, a few thousand years later, talks about being like children to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. The same God, different aspects of His personality.


May God give us wisdom to allow what is personal to continue to be personal, and may He give us first love and acceptance and a tolerant spirit, that can project His character through us.

Anonymous said...

Hello Pastor,
Thank you for your Article which has some good points. However,I have a few questions that popped up as I read all on your blog.

First, what do you mean when you say, "As sinful human beings, we cannot keep the Sabbath, no matter how convicted we are." Did God tell us to keep His Sabbath Holy knowing full well that we would not be able to keep it? Did He tell us not to kill, steal and commit adultery planning thereby for us to actually do the opposite? Is He more concerned about "User Friendly" than "User Safety"?

Secondly, what is the cause of the spiritual declension in the SDA's religion as observed by yourself and some others? And does the problem exist only among SDA's? Are not intelligent people supposed to think from cause to effect, which seemed to be lacking in the comments? If all medical doctors fearfully reasoned as so many modern religionists, when we go to the Emergency Dept. or hospital would we ever find out what is wrong with us? Would doctors not be afraid of being called "legalists" and/or "judgmental" if they dared to get specific about the "do's" and "do not’s" of our personal habits or lifestyles? Would they dare show us our test results and be so "judgmental" as to warn us of what will happen to us if we don't change our ways? Why can't every man (or woman) do that which is right in their own eyes, and still be in super health, despite the immutable laws of good health? If the doctor tells us that we are obese because we are eating too much, are we not at liberty to set ourselves up as judges of the accused "judgmental" and "legalistic" doctor?
Is it unfair to draw a parallel of responsibility between the medical profession and the spiritual profession? Between "doctors of medicine" and "doctors of divinity"?

Shawn Brace said...

Hi Folks,

I have been overwhelmed with all the feedback. So, instead of responding to each individual comment, I have created a second post to address some of the major concerns. You can find that here:

http://newenglandpastor.blogspot.com/2011/05/sabbath-revisited.html

Anonymous said...

Salt said...
Yes, it's true that the church has failed our young people, and yes it's true that there are a lot of hypocrites in the church. There comes a time where we need to stop blaming the church and the people and take responsibility for our own actions. The beautiful thing about serving God is that He accepts and loves you for who you are, however, He does not leave you the same way he met you. Through studying the scripture and prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. He will tell you how to keep the sabbath. It's a celebration that will continue in Heaven. Keep your eyes focus on God and He will guide you.

Joanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tina C. said...

I think like everything else it's a heart issue. It's just an outward indication that they're relationship with Jesus is suffering. It's just become a set of Do's and Don'ts to them. It's not only in the Adventist church but every church,every denomination, so many church members are just going to church and that's the extent of their relationship with Christ. We as Adventists get accused of thinking we're saved by keeping the law just because we love the Sabbath (I don't keep the Sabbath in order to be saved, I keep it BECAUSE I'm saved by Grace through faith. I got saved as a Baptist and became an Adventist much later. I was disgusted at how people in my Baptist church then, acted as "Christians" Most of them were partying on Saturday night with my ex and showing up for Sunday School with alcohol still in their system, how could I witness to my ex about Jesus and His grace when he could point at half the people in my church living like the world and not like the Savior who set them free. This was 90% of the "SAVED" people who showed up at church. In most churches people aren't saved they just go to church and I think that is becoming the case with our Adventist church too, all the churches in every denomination are becoming laodicean. Most of my Baptist friends say "we're saved by grace" so I guess that means they can sin all they want to and not have to worry about the pesky obedient part. Guess they haven't read Romans 6:1