Welcome to the first long weekend of the summer. This is the weekend when everyone really starts to feel like it is summer. The boats have been launched. The jet skis are running. The Blue Jays are playing. It's warm enough to do anything except to swim. I notice that when the May long weekend comes around, people seem to be a lot more relaxed. To borrow the advertising slogan from Coca Cola, a long weekend can be the "pause that refreshes."
If you've watched any of the hockey playoffs, you may have seen the commercials by Labbatt for a website called "FreeYourTime.ca."? I went to that website and saw this:
Had enough of the rat race? Tired of pushing paper, answering phones, squeezing into packed subways, sitting in endless traffic, eating at your desk...
Need more Free Time?
Make your voice heard here. Take a stand against the Free Time Crisis. .... An extra holiday wouldn't be so bad either...
This spring Blue Light, the champion of Free Time, will petition the Ontario government to declare a long weekend in June to help you FREE YOUR TIME.
So far 113,000 people have signed the petition, including me. But I wouldn't hold my breath. Premier Mike Harris has laughed it off as a joke. Our only alternative is to move to Europe, where in some countries you start off with four or five week's holiday. Either that or you can start lobbying your boss.
Thousands of years ago, God have ten values that we can use to build strong families.? God intended that these would be values or guidelines that would provide the basis for strong families and fulfilling lives. The past few weeks we've looked at some of these values - putting God first; accepting no substitutes; taking God seriously; and honoring my parents.
One of the ten values that God gave was designed to free your time. God said, thousands of years ago, that if you want to live a strong and fulfilling life, if you want to build a strong family, and if you want to avoid burnout, you've got to follow God's maintenance schedule. This is one of God's greatest gifts to us. Winston Churchill called it "a divine and priceless institution...essentially the Day of Emancipation form the compulsion and strain of daily work."? It's the longest of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20:8-11, God said:
Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any kind of 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; then he rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)
This isn't one of the Ten Suggestions. This is one of the Ten Commandments. It's absolutely essential if you're going to build a strong family and a successful life.
The Sabbath comes from a word that means "time out."? You could translate Sabbath as "take a breath."? The purpose of the Sabbath is to prevent burnout. It is God's gift to men and women so that we could live the life that God intends us to live.
The reality is that since God gave this command, we've been fighting against it. There are lots of people who would never think of murder, adultery, or blasphemy. They wouldn't think of breaking most of the Ten Commandments. But they have no problem breaking this one. Why do we ignore this command?
One reason we ignore this command is because we think that the Sabbath no longer applies to us. We've been taught that it's an Old Testament law that has no relevance today. In fact, out of all the Ten Commandments, this is the one that is the most controversial. Some people have taught that this is a command that we can safely ignore. But we'll see in a moment that the principle of the Sabbath is as relevant today as it has ever been. We need a day of rest every week if we're to live the way God intended us to live.
But the other reason we ignore this command is because this command has been twisted throughout the years. We've taken what was meant as a blessing and turned it into a burden. By the time that Jesus came, rabbis had added hundreds of rules to define what you could or couldn't do on the Sabbath day. We've done the same. We have phrases like "a month of Sundays."? People have actually preached that you shouldn't read your newspaper on a Sunday. You shouldn't watch TV on a Sunday. You certainly shouldn't play sports on a Sunday. No movies, no parties, no dates. We've added all these rules that have turned the Sabbath from a blessing to a burden. That's not at all what God had intended.
When Jesus came, Jesus said yes to the Sabbath day, but no to the traditions. I love what John Piper says: "Jesus didn't come to abolish the Sabbath day, but to dig it out...and give it to us again as a blessing rather than as a burden."? One of the ways that the Sabbath has changed for us is that the day isn't as important. Colossians 2:16-17 and Romans 14:5-6 says that we're no longer tied down to what day we celebrate the Sabbath. In fact, the early church began meeting on Sundays - which were workdays - in celebration of Jesus' resurrection. In essence, Jesus said no to the ceremonial obligations of the Sabbath, but he said yes to the principle of the Sabbath.
Jesus said in Mark 2:27, "The Sabbath was made to benefit people, and not people to benefit the Sabbath."? In other words, the Sabbath wasn't designed as a straightjacket. It's not designed to take away our freedom. It's designed to give us freedom. Freedom from legalistic laws that take away the gift of the Sabbath. But freedom also from twenty-four hour work days, freedom from seven-day workweeks, freedom from working vacations, working lunches, and working dinners. God is declaring freedom from being physically and electronically chained to our offices seven days a week. It's a gift to be received. It's a necessity to live the life that God intends.
Why do we need a day of rest every seven days?
1. OUR BODIES NEED IT
Our bodies need a break. Your body was not designed to be driven and pressed seven days a week. Statistics now show that when we work excessively without breaks, our bodies begin to suffer with symptoms like high blood pressure or even premature heart attacks. One doctor discovered that more oxygen is lost in a day's work than is recovered in the night's sleep. The body needs one day off a week to restore the proper amount of oxygen to the system to begin a new week's work.
Your body needs a rest. During the French Revolution, the government repealed the laws that Sundays were to be a day off. They said, "Every day will now be a day of work."? Within months, they had to cancel that law and re-establish one day in seven as a day of rest. The health of the French people collapsed. It didn't work.
You can get away with it for a while. But your body needs one day in seven that's free from stress. The old saying goes, "If the bow is always bent, it will break."? You need one day in seven to unstring the bow and to relax. On our days off, we usually end up mowing the lawn, going to the bank, running to the cleaner, dropping the kids off, washing the car, and cleaning the house. We read books called When I Relax, I Feel Guilty. We need one guilt-free day to relax and to allow our bodies to rest.
2. OUR EMOTIONS NEED IT
The story's told of a new Navy jet fighter that shot itself down. Flying at supersonic speed, it ran into the cannon shells that it had fired only seconds before. The jet was flying too fast.
We're moving so fast in our society that our emotions are getting frazzled. This past Thursday, an article appeared in the National Post with this headline: "Drivers All Edgy."? The article went on to say:
Growing frustration on the road is causing a large majority of drivers to run red lights and commit other dangerous and hostile acts, a new study shows.
About 85% of those surveyed by the Canada Safety Council admitted to speeding, tailgating, passing on the shoulder of a roadway and stealing parking spots.
It's not just on the roads that we're getting edgy. We're more stressed than ever before. Our jobs are more demanding. Our lives are getting busier. Laptops, pagers, and cell phones mean that we never seem to escape the demands of work and life. Our lives are getting more complicated, and we are getting more and more stressed.
In the current issue of Fast Company, Seth Godin recounts his first product launch about 15 years ago:
A team of 40 of us stayed in the office all night and all day for about a month. We slept on the floor (when we slept at all) and only left the office for an occasional shower...We made our deadline...and saved the company. I remember the perverse pride we all took in our insane dedication...But it almost cost me my girlfriend...and it definitely cost me my health: I was sick for six months afterward.
He concludes, "It's time to stop the madness and reset your internal clock."
The average corporate employee receives 177 messages in a day by email, fax, voicemails, and letters. Check your email. There are people sending you messages at midnight and at 4 AM. Our emotions need one day a week in which we say, "Today, I don't do emails. Today I'm turning off the beeper and leaving the phone off."? We should all think about joining the Lead Pencil Club - a club with over 800 members from many countries. The Lead Pencil Club believes in opposing this "godless age of speed and technology," its motto is "Not so Fast."? It's a club that believes in not answering the phone at supper time. We need one day off in seven to keep our emotions healthy.
3. OUR SPIRITS NEED IT
If you're going to stay spiritually healthy - if you're going to keep the first four commandments and have a healthy and growing spiritual life - you need one day off in seven to recalibrate your soul. One person has called the Sabbath "rehearsing for eternity."? Reggie McNeal writes about the dangers of busyness to spiritual leaders, but I think this applies to all of us:
Fax machines, emails, telephones, beepers, an over-committed schedule, the press of people's needs...these are the tools of mass destruction for spiritual leaders. Their development and deployment often proceed without inspection. They threaten to shut down the spiritual leader's communion with God. Once that happens, the leader's effectiveness is destroyed. The leader becomes a casualty of a struggle that is as old as humanity - the drowning out of eternity by the screams of temporal concerns.
What is the Sabbath?? It is a day to restore eternity to our souls. It's a day that should connect us to heaven in such a way that it causes shifts in our weekday priorities. Somebody has compared the Sabbath to a date with God. All great marriages are great because the couples continue to date each other after their wedding. Sabbath days are dates with God. Reggie McNeal continues:
Remember, Sabbath is a gift to us from God. Accept his invitation. You can relax in his presence because he is safe to share your life with. More than anything else, he just wants the time to be with you. Unfettered and unbusy time to enjoy you, to show you his love. Time to make you a champion at living.
How can I keep the Sabbath day?? God said, "Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God" (Exodus 20:8-10). What does it mean to keep the Sabbath day holy?? Holy means set apart or different. God says that we're supposed to take one day a week and do something different than we do the other six days of the week. On the seventh day, we're to have a change of pace. That's what it means - unique, reserved, special.
How can we do this?? I want to look at three ways that we can keep the Sabbath day the way that God intended:
1. REST YOUR BODY
The first way that we can keep the Sabbath day holy is that we can rest our bodies. God himself set this as an example. When he created the world, it says he took six days to create the world and on the seventh he rested. Was God tired?? No, God does not get tired. So why did God rest on the seventh day?? He was modeling something God says is an important principal of life - every seven days you take a day off. We need to rest our bodies.
Psalm 127:2 says, "It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones."? Now you have a biblical basis for your Sunday afternoon nap. Jesus demonstrated this for us. We need to rest. Jesus relaxed and he never felt guilty about it. Jesus took naps. Jesus faced enormous pressures in his public ministry - crowds, demands, controversies, and problems. Crowds followed him, pressed him, and hounded him. They kept him up late and woke him up early in the morning. But Jesus knew how to rest his body. He said in Mark 4:35, "Let's cross to the other side of the lake."? You could rephrase that, "We're out of here."? And then Jesus slept. Jesus knew how to rest his body.
When we rest, we're imitating the God who rests. We're anticipating our day of rest. We're resting our body because our bodies were designed for rest. Psalm 23 says, "The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams."
The irony is that when we rest our bodies, we get more done the rest of the week. Two groups started to cross the United States in covered wagons during the gold rush. One stopped every seven days for rest and worship. The other group pressed ahead seven days a week. Which one do you think arrived first?? The group that had stopped every seven days a week won the race. A run-down person is an unproductive person. We need to rest our bodies.
2. RECHARGE YOUR EMOTIONS
The Sabbath isn't a day to be glum and miserable. It's a day to build play and praise into your life. It's a day for your emotions to be recharged. It's a day to stay emotionally healthy. Proverbs 14:30 says, "A relaxed attitude lengthens life."? The Sabbath is a day for us to loosen our grip. It's a day to inhale God's holiness and goodness. It's a day to rejoice that you are a gift to life, and that life is a gift to you.
Leonard Sweet writes that the Sabbath allows "the soul time and space to catch up to the body, and the body to catch up to itself before taking a deep breath and plunging into the new duties, activities, and responsibilities."? Scientists have found that in everyday activities, our brains produce beta waves of thirteen to twenty-five cycles per second. We spend most of our lives emitting beta waves. When we daydream, clear our minds of static and clutter, our minds emit alpha waves - waves of eight to twelve cycles per second. Sabbaths are about alpha waves. Sabbaths are about forgetting about mowing the lawn, paying the bills, and returning phone calls. Sabbaths are about standing in the garden - weeds and all - and breathing in the scents. It's about being rather than just doing.
I've found that certain actions don't help to re-create and recharge our emotions. Working doesn't work. Banking doesn't work. It's not refreshing to see how our stocks performed and to readjust our priorities. It's not even good to worry about work. When we w orry, we're not physically working, but we're mentally working.
I've also found that it might be good to refrain from shopping. It's not that shopping is necessarily wrong on the Sabbath - that's a separate issue - but it's not helpful. It feeds into the pattern of buy more and work more. It's good on the Sabbath to banish from our minds all the activities that might cause us stress - activities like paying bills, preparing tax returns, and making a list of things to do in the coming week. One wise woman made a deliberate choice to not think about people who make her angry. It's a time to recharge the emotions.
What about sports?? For one person, it can be refreshing to shoot hoops. It can be enjoyable for mom and dad to watch him do that. For another, it's competitive and stressful. In my mind, children playing and catching ball while parents watch is a fine image of Sabbath. It's said that John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, liked to bowl on Sunday afternoons. What's important is that it's a different day than the other six days. It's a day to be refreshed and not depleted.
What helps us to recharge our emotions?? Joyous worship - as we'll see in a minute. Time with loved ones is important. Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, "Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you in this world. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil."? Spend some time with your family. Enjoy great food. Cherish your children. Love the needy. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Watch a sunset. Browse through the stacks of Chapters while sipping a latte. Light some candles. Recharge your emotions.
We need to rest our bodies and recharge our emotions. But if we do only these two things, we'll have missed the Sabbath. The Sabbath isn't complete - in fact, we haven't even begun to enjoy the Sabbath, until we enjoy this next part of the Sabbath:
3. REFOCUS YOUR SPIRIT
The Sabbath isn't a day to do whatever we please. God said, "the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God" (Exodus 20:10). Isaiah 58:13-14 says:
Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don't pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the LORD'S holy day. Honor the LORD in everything you do, and don't follow your own desires or talk idly. If you do this, the LORD will be your delight. I will give you great honor and give you your full share of the inheritance I promised to Jacob, your ancestor. I, the LORD, have spoken!
Reggie McNeal says:
Enter Sabbath. It is not a day off to pursue whatever fancy is attainable and affordable. Rather, it is a day to restore eternity to our souls. God established Sabbath to accomplish a re-creation of eternity, a reminder of what is really real. This re-creation of eternity has two major activities - the worship of God and reflection on the work of our hands (translated - what is going on in our lives.)
In fact, the Bible gives us two reasons why we should take a Sabbath. It helps us remember that God created us. We are God's creation, and we need to take one day a week to remember the God who created us. "For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; then he rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy" (Exodus 20:11).
We also need to remember that God delivered us. Deuteronomy 5:15 says, "Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out with amazing power and mighty deeds. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day."? On the Sabbath, we remember that God liberated us. It's a day of liberation and freedom. On the Sabbath we remember that it doesn't all depend on us. It is God who is our creator and our deliverer. It is God who is the source of all of our blessings.
The Sabbath is a day to show love to God, to break from your frantic rhythm, and to allow God to recharge your life. It's a day to delight in the Lord our God. It's a day to say to God, "Is what I am doing what you have called me to do?? Is my life pleasing to you?"? It's a time to hold our lives up to God's plumb line and to recalibrate our souls to heaven. It's a day to worship together with others in God's family.
Listen to these words:
It's not so much that we "keep the Sabbath" as that the Sabbath keeps us - keeps us whole, keeps us sane, keeps us spiritually alive. Genuine Sabbath-keeping is not a series of "you shall nots" but a string of celebrations. Its goal is not to shut you off from the realities of life, but to open you up to living. (Leonard Sweet)
Do you want to build a strong family life?? Do you want to live the life that God intends?? Then follow God's maintenance schedule. Take one day in seven to rest your body, to recharge our emotions, to refocus your spirit.
This is one of the best gifts you can give your family. You can teach them to live according to God's rhythm. You can model it for them.
If you're tired today, then you can commit to God to spend 14% of your life living the Sabbath. You can take one day in seven and make it a holy day. If you're tired today, you can come to Jesus and give him all of your life. Jesus said in Matthew 11:
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
I want to challenge you to start taking this commandment seriously. Build it into your life. Let's pray.
Father, there are a lot of us who are tired because we're not living this way. We've made the mistake of thinking that we're too busy, too stressed, too pressured to follow your command. As a result, our bodies have suffered. Our emotions have suffered. Our spiritual life has suffered. Our families are suffered.
Today, I commit to discovering the blessing of the fourth commandment. It was given as a gift from you. Help all of us to discover the rewards of having you free our time. It isn't a petition from Labbatt that can free our time. It's ultimately only you who can free our time.
If you don't have Christ at the center of your life - if your priorities are out of order, and you haven't been living for God, you can receive the gift of eternal life today. You can receive the rest that Jesus promised to those who come to him. You can pray these words:
"Today I come to you. I ask you to become the manager, the pacesetter, the teacher of my life. Today I trade the burdens of my sins, my failures, my misplaced priorities on you. I thank you for Jesus' invitation, and today I accept and begin to follow him, as best as I know how, for the rest of my life. In Jesus' name, Amen."