Monday, November 24, 2014

Guarding the Sabbath Doors

In those days I saw men of Judah treading out their winepresses on the Sabbath.  They were also bringing in grain, loading it on donkeys, and bringing their wine, grapes, figs, and all sorts of produce to Jerusalem to sell on the Sabbath.  So I rebuked them for selling their produce on that day.   Some men from Tyre, who lived in Jerusalem, were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise.  They were selling it on the Sabbath to the people of Judah—and in Jerusalem at that!  So I confronted the nobles of Judah.  “Why are you profaning the Sabbath in this evil way?”  I asked.  “Wasn’t it just this sort of thing that your ancestors did that caused our God to bring all this trouble upon us and our city?  Now you are bringing even more wrath upon Israel by permitting the Sabbath to be desecrated in this way!”  Then I commanded that the gates of Jerusalem should be shut as darkness fell every Friday evening, not to be opened until the Sabbath ended.  I sent some of my own servants to guard the gates so that no merchandise could be brought in on the Sabbath day.  The merchants and tradesmen with a variety of wares camped outside Jerusalem once or twice.  But I spoke sharply to them and said, “What are you doing out here, camping around the wall?  If you do this again, I will arrest you!”  And that was the last time they came on the Sabbath.  Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and to guard the gates in order to preserve the holiness of the Sabbath.  Remember this good deed also, O my God!  Have compassion on me according to your great and unfailing love.     Nehemiah 13:15 - 22 (NLT)
We live in a world in which the pressures can sometimes be crushing.  There was a man who ran up to an airline ticket agent and said, "Give me a ticket."  The agent said, "Where to?"  He replied, "Anywhere; ANYWHERE, I’ve got business EVERYWHERE!"[1]

We live in a very tense, uptight, and fast-paced world filled with hurry.  A Tahoma, Washington newspaper carried the story of Tattoo the basset hound.  Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut the dog’s leash in the car door and took off for a drive – with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice. 
A motorcycle officer noticed the poor basset hound was, “picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could.”  He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued (and survived), but not before the dog had reached a top speed of 25 miles per hour, falling down and rolling over several times.

Too many of us are living our lives like Tattoo, picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can – rolling around and feeling dragged through life.[2]

Today in Jerusalem when the Friday afternoon sun hits the horizon, you had better make sure you’ve gotten everything you need from the locals.  When the Sabbath begins (at dark) the restaurants will be closed, elevators and buses won’t run, and you can carry your own bags up to your room.  They take the Sabbath seriously.  
When it comes to obeying the 5th Commandment to Remember the Sabbath, our Jewish friends have it all over the Christian community!

The whole question about this topic of Sabbath is the center of this message.  And the answer is for today’s hurried, dragged-out, “pick-‘em-up and put-‘em-down”, over-worked, stressed-out believer.

Understanding the Sabbath

What, exactly, is the Sabbath?  The word literally means “to rest” or cease from working.  The Sabbath was given to us by God’s example:

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God.  On that day no one in your household may do any work.  This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you.  For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested.  That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.    Exodus 20:8 - 11 (NLT)

The Sabbath is also given by command:

Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the LORD your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm.  That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5:15 (NLT)

Usually God’s commandments and His wonderful example are insufficient for today’s humans, so it requires explanation more so than “God said so”; we also understand that the Sabbath is good for us.

As we recall the basset hound that was pulled-along in his master’s evening ride, we remember our own leashes in this life.  Life is filled with stress, overwork, worry and frustration.  We live in a fallen world!  That fallen world pushes our ability to cope right to the edge of the envelope. 

A man was known for always praying the same thing at the altar:  “Oh, Lord, fill me again, fill me with your Spirit, Lord.”  Each service he would come to the altar and pray it, “Oh, Lord, fill me again!”  One dear sister got tired of hearing it so many times.  Finally, it was once too much for her.  As the man prayed, “Oh, Lord, fill me with your Spirit again”, the lady sent her own prayer up, “Don’t do it, Lord – don’t fill him, he leaks!

Well, the reality is that we DO leak; all of us.  That is why we need a regular Sabbath.  We need regular filling of rest,(שׁבת shâbath).

God has always been in the business of giving us what we need, rather than what we think we want.  He gave the Sabbath to defeat our human default mechanism (HDM).  The HDM is that part of our nature that responds to the fallen-ness of this world.  When there are things we want, we take them.  When there are places we want to go, we go there.  If anything stands in our way we do our thing harder, faster, more often and with incredible determination. 

Human Default Mechanism says Do it yourself – Make it work – Nobody denies me what I want. 

When doing things faster, harder, or in spite of common sense doesn’t work, the HDM in all of us says, “Bail; Get out of there; do not fail!”  We watched an episode of Fear Factor one night (it was under protest…we had a couple of twenty-somethings for dinner, and they knew when 8:00 came around!)  The show had one of those water episodes for couples.  The woman was padlocked in a glass chamber and lowered in the pool; the man had to “rescue” her.  Out of four couples, two of the men “bailed” on the ladies.  HDM!

Rather, Sabbath says, take a regular dose of Deuteronomy 5:15 – it is God’s hand that rescues you....  Sabbath tells us to be still one day in seven and reflect on God’s marvelous providence – how His nature is always to provide our needs. 

We don’t have to push harder than all the rest; we simply need to trust more than HDM says we ought.  God gave us Sabbath not merely to keep us from doing things on a given day – He gave us Sabbath to bring something to our souls – REST!

Keeping the Sabbath

In the Scripture passage we read we find that in a very short time the leaders in Jerusalem had gone from honoring the Lord to forgetting all about Him.  They forgot about keeping the Sabbath holy – devoted to God.  The Sabbath day became just like any other, with business being done and worship forgotten.

I got a dose of that last week.  Our internet service at the house died on Friday.  When I called Time-Warner to see about getting it fixed, no less than three customer service people tried to schedule me for a Sunday appointment.  No Sabbath for those repairmen!

Nehemiah was livid at the sight of the merchants streaming through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath!  Like Jesus chasing moneychangers out of the temple with a whip, Nehemiah slammed the doors and got in everybody’s face.  No more business on the Lords’ Day!  Talk about “blue laws”!

Now, this begs the question – Should we bring back the blue laws?  And, while we’re at it, should we be worshipping on the Sabbath like our Seventh Day Adventist friends?  The answer is yes.  But it ought not to be a Washington blue law…it ought to be cardiac-based.  It ought to come from our hearts!

God never meant for us to be a law-based group.  God’s way is to write His ways on our hearts, and then take up residence there too.  Here are several ways we can keep the Sabbath with our hearts:

Physical Sabbath

It is true that your body will not last forever, and God will give you a new one.  However, in the here and now this is the only body you are going to get – and therefore it is the only body with which you have to serve and please God.  If you treat your body badly you go against New Testament teaching:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.         Romans 12:1 - 2 (NLT)

I want to suggest that your body needs Sabbath.  Each of us needs to realize the benefits of treating our physical bodies with respect is a holy thing. 
*    I need to eat better and less, and exercise more.  Some of you need to join me…and we need to encourage each other. 

*    I quit smoking years ago.  Some of you need to get on that too!  If you need, we will develop a support group.

Physical needs are no joke.  We know that God will take us home when He is ready…it is up to us to cooperate with His program for fitness with the body here and now.  It is good stewardship to observe Sabbath for our physical bodies.

Emotional Sabbath
Emotions run high these days.  Our minds are assaulted by attitudes in the workplace and schools and malls.  CNN does my emotions no earthly good with its war-on-every-front predictions. 

We worry about the education of our children and the influences our culture will have on them.  We worry about so much, taxes, health, traffic on the roads and in the skies…we even worry about the economy and a balanced budget.

Your emotions need Sabbath.  I would prescribe a daily dose of Psalms and Proverbs and Gospels for your emotions. 

Read psalms written by David about those times when he was hunted, chased by King Saul – how he hid in caves and felt the hot breath of pursuit of the king’s armies on his trail.  And you’ll notice how David’s trust was in the Lord. 

Read the Proverbs and let the wisdom of God rest upon your emotions. 

Read the Gospels and let the Good News steady your heart. 

Sabbath for our bodies and minds, and then for our souls…

Spiritual Sabbath
Spiritual Sabbath is worship.  Should we be worshipping on Saturday?  Should it be Sunday?  YES!  And Monday through Friday as well.  Don’t forget, your faith is not taken out of the garage on Sunday like a seldom-used Rolls Royce so you can show off at Sunday School.  Your faith is much more like a pickup truck that hauls you everywhere, hauls the necessities of life.  Relationships are like tough pickup trucks – they go where needed and carry it all.  Sabbath for the soul is a relationship with Jesus.
·  Are you a little like Tattoo the basset hound…dragged out, tumbled over?
·  Is life a little hectic?
·  Is your body screaming for a little break in the action?
·  Is your soul a little heavy?

Try this:
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.            Matthew 11:28 (NASB)  

Blue laws for the body, mind and soul; God said you need it, and you know it too!

[1] Ray Stedman, Preventing Burnout and Preserving Power,
[2] James Botts, The Crossing Community Church, in "Rest For The Stressed."

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