The First Sign of Backsliding

Heron Channelside (5)

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Concerning Jesus, the Pharisees said,

Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked.  “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? John 7:47-48 NLT

In Luke 24:13-34 Jesus uses Scripture to explain to a couple of friends who the Messiah is, while they don’t even recognize Him. Jesus didn’t want them to recognize Him. Jesus did not need them to recognize Him. The Scriptures stood on their own regardless if it was the Son of God or a small servant child sharing them. However, the Pharisees thought people should base their beliefs on who endorsed them rather than what the Scriptures said about them. The Pharisees thought people should just believe whatever the leaders believed, and if a leader did not believe it neither should anyone else. 

May I suggest that the first sign of backsliding is when people take their eyes off of Scriptures and look to their leaders alone?

In Exodus 32:1-35 the people took their eyes off the law they just heard and looked to Aaron. The people should have held Aaron accountable to the law but instead they thought Aaron was above the law or able to interpret the law all on his own. Maybe they thought since Aaron was the high priest that he would be more spiritual than they. He wasn’t. Working as a Bible worker and lay preacher I have a lot of close associations with ordained ministers as well as lay people. I am surprised to find many lay members assume pastors are on a higher spiritual plane when they are not. Should pastors walk very closely to Jesus? Of course! But so should every single church member.  Lay members are called Christians. In sign language the literal translation is “Christ person” or a person like Christ. You can’t have any calling higher than that. Being an ordained pastor does not make you like Christ. Being a true Christian makes you like Christ.

Not by their wealth, their education, or their position does God estimate men. He estimates them by their purity of motive and their beauty of character. He looks to see how  much of His Spirit they possess and how much of His likeness their life reveals.  -Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, Pages 477-8

Maybe the people of Israel thought Aaron had special insights into the law and could interpret it better than they. He didn’t. On the other hand, we have Jesus who was God in the flesh, yet instead of claiming any special insights or philosophies above Scripture, He always stuck to Scripture. In Matthew 4:1-11, when Jesus was tempted He did not check with His personal inclinations or philosophy in order to create any gray areas. Instead He answered every temptation with “It is written” in the Scripture. In Luke 10:25-26 an expert in the law asked Jesus how to have eternal life. He did not give any off-the-cuff answer. He directed the man straight to Scripture.  Had Aaron looked to the law he just heard instead of the people or his own emotions, the golden calf never would have been made, and there would have been no backsliding. If the people had focused on the law they just heard instead of looking to Aaron and their apparent current circumstances they would never have backslidden.

The church went through the spiritual dark ages when the Scriptures were usurped by men of position and human reasoning. Recovery from this darkness began when men like Luther usurped men of position and human reasoning with Scripture.  Today, I believe the first sign of personal or corporate backsliding begins by preferring people with position and human reasoning over Scripture.

As I read about the reformations made in Nehemiah 13, I can’t help but think there are changes I need to make as well in regard to Sabbath keeping and even health reform. Years ago I was working for a church that was somewhat lax about the health message. I actually appreciated this as I could take my cola into the church office without anyone giving me funny looks or admonishing me. But you know what? It was still very unhealthy. It wasn’t any more appropriate just because this church had a different tone about caffeine than previous churches I worked with.  1 Corinthians 10:31 says to eat and drink to the glory of God, and that stands regardless of what church I am in or what other church leaders  are eating or drinking around me. The same goes for Sabbath reform. I see more and more secular work being done in the church on Sabbath that should be saved for during the week. Recently I received a call on Sabbath from a pastor wanting me to hold meetings in his church. He started talking to me about what I would charge and started scrolling through hotel prices online while we were on the phone. I asked him if we could discuss the business part after Sabbath. He quickly agreed but he never spoke to me again. I get it. It is more convenient to take care of these things on Sabbath. Our week is already so hectic.

I worked with a church years ago where everyone wanted to hold committee meetings on Sabbath because it was more convenient than coming back to church during the week. People stopped coming to prayer meeting because they did not want to take time for church during the week. But it did not stop there. Next thing I knew people wanted to have their committee meetings during Sabbath School so they would not have to stay after church. It makes me wonder what we would do if Nehemiah came to our churches today? Problem is, would we just tell him to mind his own business because we are all already doing what is right in our own eyes, and we don’t need him judging us? Something to think about.

Throughout history individual Christians and churches have been tempted to backslide by preferring convenience, philosophy and human leaders over Scripture. The first sign of backsliding is when we neglect or rationalize away Scripture. Jesus gave us a fool-proof way to avoid backsliding by placing Scripture above human authority or human philosophy and reasoning.

You may study this week’s lesson here. 

What Time is Sunset?

During the 1992 U.S. presidential debate, George Bush Sr. glanced at his watch, and lost the election. Many speculate, that by looking at his watch, Bush was disconnecting from his audience while a young Clinton was charming them. When we watch the clock on Sabbath are we disconnecting from God?

I love reading so much, that when I was in high school, I thought it would be so cool to be locked in the central library overnight, so I could browse through all the books all alone with no one to disturb me. Fast forward to today when I have my own Kindle and and can do just that! I have a library at my fingertips that I can browse all night – and I have! One thing, though, that bothers me about my Kindle is that at the bottom of the screen is a scale that tells me how close I am to the end of the book, while I am reading. I hate that! I want to be lost in time when I read. I don’t want to be thinking about how much time is left. I just want to be in the moment. It’s like life. I don’t want to know how much time I have to live. I just want to live and be in the moment!God gave us the Sabbath to enjoy. When we glance at our clocks, asking again and again, “What time is sunset?” are we sending the signal that there is somewhere else we would rather be than with God – just like Bush unintentionally sent the message to his audience that there was somewhere else he would rather be? Is the Sabbath something we want to just get over with, or do we likebeing in the moment on Sabbath, without looking forward to when it will end?

In the Garden of Eden, do you think Adam and Eve were looking at the sun, waiting for it to set, while they worshiped and fellowshipped with the Lord every Sabbath? Do you think they found Sabbath-keeping a chore, or do you think they delighted themselves in being in the moment and enjoyed their special time with God?

Some say that now that we have rest in Jesus, we no longer need a weekly Sabbath rest. Did Adam and Eve have rest in Jesus or not? Yet they enjoyed a weekly Sabbath rest – a special time with their Creator God. If they needed a weekly Sabbath to fellowship with God before sin, then we also need the same blessings after the atonement. Actually we enjoy the blessings of the weekly Sabbath the most when we are at perfect at-one-ment with God. Since the purpose of the Sabbath is to enjoy our relationship with God for eternity, the Sabbath will be kept for eternity. (See Isaiah 66:23)

By giving us the Sabbath, God gave us rest and not burdens. Mark 2:27 says the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. In Isaiah 58:13 God wants us to call the Sabbath a delight.

Since the Sabbath was meant to be a delight and a blessing, God gave us guidelines about Sabbath keeping. However, we defeat the purpose of the Sabbath, when we become so focused on the guidelines  and so “stressed” about keeping the Sabbath appropriately that, instead of enjoying the holy hours and being in the moment, we just watch the clock until sunset, when we will be relieved of the stress and pressure of Sabbath keeping. Yet the purpose of the Sabbath is to eliminatestress and pressure, not create it!

Imagine the Hebrews when God delivered them from Egyptian slavery and reintroduced them to the Sabbath. They had been working non-stop so Pharaohcould rest. But God worked non-stop to deliver the Hebrews so they could rest. The Sabbath rest reminded them that God’s work had saved them, and not their own efforts. Pharaoh gave them work and burdens, but God took those burdens so they could rest.

We read in Exodus 16 that God gave the Hebrews twice as much manna on Friday so they would not need to gather on the Sabbath. He did not want them burdened with meal preparations. He did not want them to be stressed or burdened at all. In Exodus 35:3 He told them not to kindle a fire. Today, starting a fire may not be any work at all, but it was back then.

When a man is in love with his wife, on special nights, he will come home from work, where has provided for her needs, and tell her to relax on the sofa while he prepares dinner for her. He does not want her to lift a finger. After dinner he leads her back into the living room, where he will massage her feet until she falls asleep. Then he goes back in the kitchen and cleans up while she rests. On such a special night, when he is expressing his love for her, he does not want her to worry about anything or do any work. If the kids have left their toys in the bathtub, he will remove them for her before she takes her bath. This is a special day for him to express his love for her, and he does not want her to do the least amount of work! He wants to be her everything!

As long as the husband loves his wife he will always need special nights like this to express his love for her. Oh, but you say, “If he loves her he will love her every day and every day will be special.” True, but all you hopeless romantics know that even in marriage you need date nights which are special nights like no other night. Likewise, as long as God loves His people He will always need His special Sabbaths to express His love for them.

Now suppose after preparing dinner and lighting the candles, the husband leads his wife into the dinning room and sits her at the table. He then serves the casserole on her plate. He stares lovingly into her eyes, but she is not gazing back. She is watching Britain Has Talent on her tablet. Doesn’t look like she is too into him, does it? She is not sharing the moment, is she? To call the date night a delight, she needs to delight in her date.  In order for us to call the Sabbath a delight we must delight ourselves in the Lord of the Sabbath.

You may be reading this, thinking, our date nights are nothing like that! My wife does not even like for her feet to be massaged! Her feet are too ticklish! Your date nights may have different activities, but the principle of love and devotion are the same. So with Sabbath keeping. Date nights should be creative, and so should Sabbath keeping. Do you get tired of the same ole Sabbath rituals of just going through the motions of playing traditional church, with no creative or spontaneous passion and emotion? You are not alone. God gets tired of it too!

Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. Isaiah 1:13 NLT 

When Israel was just going through the motions of traditional Sabbath worship, without putting any creative passion and emotion into it, God called it meaningless, sinful, and He wanted no more of it.

Now there is nothing wrong with traditions unless we use tradition as an excuse to not be creative and thoughtful. Married couples have traditions, but they should be thoughtful traditions. In other words, tradition should never be an excuse to be mundane and boring! In Isaiah 1:13 God is telling His people, He does not want any more date nights if they are just going to be meaningless traditions void of love, creativity and passion.

After all, if the Sabbath is a memorial to our Creator who created us in His own image, shouldn’t we be creative too?

Please comment below with some creative ideas you have for Sabbath. God put a lot of thought into His date with us each week. Let’s be creative and make the Sabbath a day where we are not looking at our watches waiting for it to be over. Instead of asking “What time is sunset?” let’s live each Sabbath moment to the fullest.

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Sabbath Observance Myth Busters #1 Sabbath Afternoon Naps

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

As Seventh-day Adventists continue celebrating the 150th anniversary of our name, I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the Sabbath we observe and how we observe it. It must be important because it is in our name. The fourth commandment tells us to remember the Sabbath. Most of the world has forgotten it and thus has forgotten its Creator. Our name reminds the world that we have a Creator. However many myths exist about Sabbath keeping. Many times we have instituted our own traditions because we did not realize the true spirit of the Sabbath. This month I would like to address some of the myths about Sabbath keeping. I am in no way pretending to be an expert on Sabbath observance. I am only sharing what I feel to be true. If you disagree, please feel free to comment and say why. This blog covers myth number one.

Myth # 1: Sabbath is a time for sleeping all afternoon.

For years Adventist families have tried to abstain from doing things that would break the Sabbath, by just sleeping right through it. They figure you can’t do something wrong as long as you are asleep. Wrong! The Sabbath is a day for activity.

“…and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:10-12 NIV.

 

So the Sabbath is a day for doing good. We see this same thought expressed in Isaiah 58:13-14.

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
       and from doing as you please on my holy day,
       if you call the Sabbath a delight
       and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
       and if you honor it by not going your own way
       and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
       and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
       and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
       The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Growing up I heard these verses used to tell us that we should not just do as we please in worldly talk or entertainment on the Sabbath, but as you read all of Isaiah 58 you get the broader meaning. God is talking about people who are breaking the Sabbath by going to church and Sabbath School! That’s right! They go to church and debate theology in the Sabbath school and then they go to fellowship lunch and sit with their friends talking their own idle words, while they ignore the stranger at the next table. God tells His people that true Sabbath keeping is doing good to others, and helping the stranger and less fortunate. God gave us the tithing system to help us systematically overcome our selfishness with money, and He gave us the Sabbath to help us systematically overcome selfishness with our time. Please keep in mind that even though Jesus did good He also needed rest from time to time.

I am not saying the Bible teaches we should not sleep at all on the Sabbath or even visit with friends and family. I just believe it is more than just that. As in all things there is a balance.

“None should feel at liberty to spend sanctified time in an unprofitable manner. It is displeasing to God for Sabbathkeepers to sleep during much of the Sabbath. They dishonor their Creator in so doing, and, by their example, say that the six days are too precious for them to spend in resting. They must make money, although it be by robbing themselves of needed sleep, which they make up by sleeping away holy time. They then excuse themselves by saying: “The Sabbath was given for a day of rest. I will not deprive myself of rest to attend meeting, for I need rest.” Such make a wrong use of the sanctified day. They should, upon that day especially, interest their families in its observance and assemble at the house of prayer with the few or with the many, as the case may be. They should devote their time and energies to spiritual exercises, that the divine influence resting upon the Sabbath may attend them through the week. Of all the days in the week, none are so favorable for devotional thoughts and feelings as the Sabbath.” {Counsels to the Church p. 270.4}