october 2009

I was in Cullman, Alabama, last week helping out my parents who are both in poor health right now, and Dad and I stopped by their favorite local barbeque restaurant to pick up dinner one evening.  Johnny’s Bar-B-Q is a great place to get pulled pork, whether it is served on a sandwich with coleslaw, on a platter with a few side items, or loaded onto a ginormous baked potato.  “We’ll Serve No Swine Before Its Time” is their company motto.  Johnny’s is open for business Tuesday through Saturday each week.  A sign on the front door explains what happens on the other two days.  “Closed Sunday for church.  Closed Monday to rest.”  When I saw the sign last week, my first thought was, “Wow!  Their Sundays must be a lot like mine!”

Do you ever feel like you need a day of rest after Sunday?  If you are an infrequent church-goer or one who attends a morning worship assembly and then moves on to other things for the rest of the day, you may not know what I am talking about.  But, if you are a heavily involved church member or a church leader, then you know exactly what I mean.  The day starts early with worship and Sunday School, then there is a quick lunch before a succession of activities that can easily run until nearly bedtime:  committee meetings, work groups, training sessions, service projects, evening worship services, small group meetings, and youth activities.  The larger your church, the more susceptible you are to “activity overload.”  Many of us feel pangs of guilt if we ever start to question the rationality or healthiness of such a frenetic start-to-finish pace on Sundays, because all of these activities revolve around good things; needful things; spiritual things.  But, for a people who believe and teach salvation by grace and not by works, we Christians sure do measure a lot of spiritual faithfulness, commitment, and maturity (in ourselves and others) in terms of the number of ministries involved in and the number of organized activities attended.  Saying, “No,” to a good work is tatamount to denying the faith.  A hole in your Sunday schedule means that you are not trying hard enough.  If I seem to know whereof I speak, it is because I am a Recovering Perfectionist and People-Pleaser.  “No” is just not in the acceptable, conditioned vocabulary of our church culture. 

In His covenant with Israel, God made a provision for the Sabbath, a day of respite and rest from the weekly grind.  By the time of Jesus, it was traditional and acceptable for Sabbath activities to include a visit to the local synagogue, but, beyond this time of worship, prayer, and reading and exposition of the Law and the Prophets, Saturday was a day to chill.  Still, an elaborate, loopholed  “system” ultimately developed which granted you a handy license to do just about anything you wanted to do or provided a convenient excuse to exempt you from anything that you preferred not to do.  Jesus was fairly unmerciful in exposing the hypocrisy and the excessive man-made burden of such a system. 

I know that Sunday is not the “Christian Sabbath,” despite the fact that a surprising number of Christians believe that God somehow “transferred” the Sabbath (and its prohibitions against work) to the first day of the week with the advent of the Christian age.  Sunday is Resurrection Day; the day that both Biblical and secular historical sources verify was the primary day of Christian assembly for worship, Communion, prayer, and fellowship.  Sabbath prohibitions had no relevance to this New Covenant day of worship.  “Blue laws” in the U.S. have no basis in Scripture, but rather can be traced to the influence of Puritanical interpretations of the Bible in the early history of our nation. 

Still, mankind has a need for rest.  As church leaders, we often lament the breakneck pace of our culture and the overcommitment of time that Christian families make between work, school, ballgames, and social events.  Then, we respond by packing as many activities as possible into the one remaining day of the week.  No, I am not calling for an end to the multitude of ministries and good works in which God has called His children to be involved; just asking for some balance and moderation.  With all of the special-emphasis Sundays that churches celebrate, maybe we could observe a periodic “Worship Sunday” in which the church calendar is cleared and a moratorium is declared on all official, organized activities, with the exception of an expanded morning worship assembly lasting an hour and a half or two hours.  No Bible classes (give your hard-working teachers a morning off!).  No fellowship meal.  No small groups.  No evening worship assembly.  Just an hour or two to become “lost in wonder, love, and praise” and then dismiss for the day. (Props to Charles Wesley for that phrase from his hymn Love Divine.)  Perhaps then we would not feel like we needed a day of rest after Sunday before we began the rest of our week.

“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.”  (Jesus)