Posts Tagged ‘blue laws’


“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;

if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;

then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;

I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

~ Isaiah 58:13-14 ~


I’ve written of Sabbath-keeping before, here and here.  For the orthodox Christian, this means keeping the Lord’s Day, the first day of each week (i.e. Sundays).  I was first challenged by a “theology of rest” by Joe Rigney, Professor at Bethlehem College and Seminary, in his message the God Who Loves Us by Giving Us Rest.  I heard this message about the same time that my daughter and son-in-law were beginning to adopt the Sabbath-keeping practices of their new church.  And not long after, I heard a couple sermons from one of my preaching heroes, Alistair Begg as he spoke compellingly of the joys of keeping the Sabbath in his Pathway to Freedom series.  Begg teaches both the principles and the practices of Sabbath-keeping.  As he recalls his childhood in the small Scottish community where he grew up, he reminisces of the wide-spread observance of the day and waxes almost melancholy over what has been lost by God’s people in forsaking its practice.


As I was growing up it was a given that Sunday morning we’d be in church.  Even though my dad went to his church a few blocks away from that which my mom and my sisters attended, we knew we’d all be getting up Sunday morning to head to our respective churches.  Different churches, but the value of church attendance was instilled by the modeling of both my parents.  Happily, I grew up in a state that kept its blue laws until 1991, so the rhythm of Sunday was always a bit different from the rest of the week, but once home from church we were not opposed to using the day as a sort of “second Saturday” to finish up all the things we did not get done during the week previous or those things we did not want to carry into the week to come.


Well, the Lord has been patient to allow me to study, observe, and grow in this area.  For the past year or so, Dana and I have been trying to adapt our Sundays and its activities to better reflect who we are becoming in Christ regarding this commandment.  We may not be as strict (that’s not the same as oppressive) as our daughter/son-in-law, but we are more mindful than ever of setting this day apart for rest and delight in the Lord.


Years and years ago when my kids were little, I remember reading Karen Mains’ Making Sunday Special.  I think I still have it somewhere and I suppose that I should dust it off and give it another look.  At that time, I don’t think I even associated it with the command to keep the Sabbath day holy; I just loved the Lord and wanted my family to find Sundays special.  More recently though, I just finished reading Celebrating the Sabbath by Bruce A. Ray.  Looking beyond the dated cover, I found a pretty measured and gracious handling of the topic, not at all formalistic as I might have expected.  Ray spends several chapters working through the biblical principles of God’s Sovereignty over our entire lives (i.e. time, work, rest) as well as the biblical roots and fruits of Sabbath-keeping.  His banner text is the one above from Isaiah 58, making the case for delighting in the Lord through Sabbath-keeping.  The fourth commandment is clearly a positive, not a negative, command for which we should thank God.


It is his last two chapters, though, which provide a nice practical evaluation of our hearts toward the Lord’s Day.  Ray is wisely unwilling to be the Holy Spirit in our lives; he does not give a list of dos and don’ts for the day.  He is not the least bit formulaic or legalistic, but offers grace throughout.  He offers alone these four principles: (1) keep it holily, (2) keep it happily, (3) keep it honestly, (4) keep it humbly.  What follows is primarily taken from Ray’s book.


  • Keep it Holily. “It is important to recognize that we cannot make the Sabbath holy.  God has already done that by his works of creation and redemption in the Old Testament, and by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of his Holy Spirit in the New.”  We are only charged to keep it.  Surely, a major part of keeping this day holy is by meeting with other believers for corporate worship.   The author of Hebrews 10:19-25 pleads: Let us draw near to God; let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess; let us consider how to spur one another on; and let us encourage one another.  Then, almost as if to give answer to these pleas, he offers one let us not: Let us not give up meeting together.  “We need the friendship and the fellowship… we need the stimulation and the encouragement to love, obedience, and kindness that meeting together can provide.  When Sunday is swallowed up by the weekend and loses its uniqueness – its holiness, as the Lord’s Day – then you and I are the inevitable losers.” [pp. 94-97]


  • Keep it Happily. Although we must confess our sins and seek grace for further sanctification, the atmosphere of worship must not be dominated by heaviness and remorse (Walter Chantry).  To get there, Ray reminds us that our joy, happiness, and contentment are not to be found in our physical or financial circumstances, but in the joy of knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection.  “Rested and refreshed by the power of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate in the worship of the church, we are physically and spiritually ready to begin a new week.” [pp. 97-100]


  • Keep it Honestly. Christianity Today’s former editor, Ben Patterson, noted that Christians “always seem to be looking for loopholes: ways to get credit for keeping the Sabbath without actually having to keep the Sabbath” [Sept. 19, 1986].  For the definition of what is work, Ray appeals to common sense.  Our jobs or occupations are obvious (although I recognize that some in mercy or protection jobs may need to carve out a Sabbath Day around their job schedule).  Also obvious are activities we outright identify as work: housework, yard work, office work, homework, etc.  But we are relieved to find that “rest does not require idleness and can be very active.”  The challenge, though, for the Church is how to do these and all things for the glory of God – how to keep our recreation from interfering with our fellowship with God.  “We must labor to bring our wills into submission to [God’s].  The Sabbath calls us to make God’s will our own.”  Consider the caution of John Winthrop (1588-1649), the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  He admitted some moderate recreation may be admissible on the Sabbath, but cautioned against Christian liberty – that it not, by degrees, ensnare our hearts so far in worldly delights and cool the graces of the Spirit by them.  Our hearts must be kept free, for God is jealous of our love and will not endure any pretenses in it.  [pp. 106-112]


  • Keep it Humbly. It is Ray’s belief that the Sabbath is a problem for many Christians, but it is not of intellect or even of practicality.  For many, it is primarily spiritual in nature.  “We are the heirs of centuries of self-exultation and our minds are not yet submitted to the Word of God and we resist God’s right to rule over us.  We come into our King’s presence and our spiritual family reunion tired, late, and unprepared to worship him – if we make it at all.  This is not right.”  Thinking ourselves wise, we are actually robbing our own souls as we lose this beautiful means of grace.  But we must guard against self-righteousness, legalism, and externalism – all pitfalls in which our enemy would be too pleased to lead us in our newfound commitment to Sabbath-keeping.  Ray guides us in this: The way to gain a name and a blessing is not by building it yourself, but by humbly choosing what pleases God, resting in his works, and keeping his covenant and his Sabbath holy.  Sabbath wars, he says, must all come to an end in Christ, the Prince of Peace.  [pp.112-116]


Then… the cream of the book, especially for someone like me who was not raised with the kind of Sabbath-keeping Alistair Begg remembers (see above) – Ray offers a very practical checklist (but not the kind you might expect). It’s actually a series of questions to ask concerning any proposed activity.


  • Will it in fact refresh me or will I be worn out by it?
  • Is a competitive spirit, as in league sports, compatible with the purpose of refreshment and of the Sabbath?  What if I lose? [ky-I couldn’t help but think of Eric Liddell with this one.]
  • Will a planned recreational activity interfere with my previous commitment to corporate worship and fellowship?  If I do this, will it cause me to miss or be late to the morning or evening services of my church?
  • Is my will subordinated to the will of God or am I “doing my own thing” and thus doing as I please on God holy day? Is what please me what pleases God?
  • Can I do what I am thinking of doing to the glory of God?


I end with Bruce Ray’s translation of Governor John Winthrop:

Be careful you don’t by degrees turn liberty into license and make God’s holy day your play day.  But, at the same time, don’t be so afraid to experience pleasure that you turn dancing into mourning.  The Sabbath really is a day of rejoicing and relaxing with both your natural and spiritual families.



[Image: Van Gogh’s Noon: Rest from Work]

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Bible Reading by Becky Porter

I’ve read the familiar words in the Decalogue many times (Exodus 20:8-11) and I’ve heard, maybe, a couple of sermons on it, maybe a couple of radio teachers speak on it. I’ve developed a comfortable picture of what it looks like in my own life which causes me to look a little different from the unbelieving world… a little.

To be sure, I usually delight to gather with the church on Sunday mornings, particularly having found a fellowship of saints who seek a worshipful submission to the Word of God in whatever form that might take – missions and outreach, prayer, hospitality,worship, study, service, self-sacrifice. All are sinners, it is true, but I have much to learn from these dear saints and look forward each Sunday to sharpening my iron on the iron of their lives.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God… I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness (Psalm 84:1,2,10).

As blessed as I am by this weekly gathering, this has really been the extent of my Sabbath-keeping – gathering with the church in the morning; that, and trying to maintain the long-gone blue laws of my childhood of no shopping on Sundays. That is, unless there’s a really important reason or major convenience to be gained by disregarding them. Eating out is not a part of that code, of course, nor is antiquing or using the library or a number of other activities which cause others to work through the Sabbath even if they wanted to keep it.

When I consider amping up my Sabbath-keeping, I fear the legalist in me may rise and I might get so carried away someday that I, too, would balk if a lame man were to be healed on the Lord’s Day. Of course, when I’m objective about myself, I realize that I am in no real danger of overemphasizing the day and I wonder why my foolish heart wants always to run to rules and law-keeping in these days of grace.

Years ago I read Karen Mains’ book Making Sunday Special which sparked high hopes in me for my burgeoning family. If I would have ears to hear, I sense that the Lord would teach me anew about God-given rest as I begin my first week of summer vacation.

Because of an internship for my son-in-law, he and my daughter and our grandson have recently moved and now attend a fellowship that strives to keep the Lord’s day (which I use interchangeably, here, as a New Testament form of Sabbath-keeping), not so much as a list of can’t do’s, but an embracing of get’s and get-to-do’s. I look forward to hearing how this plays out in the lives of the church there. Along these lines, the Lord, faithful God that He is, has brought a couple messages my way on the subject which challenge me to a more mature, less child-like, keeping of the Sabbath.

The first was a sort of theology of rest. It comes from a Bethlehem College and Seminary (BCS) chapel message that instructor Joe Rigney gave a while back called, “The God Who Loves Us by Giving Us Rest.” I have revived his message which is dealt with in Part II. The other message came from a High Calling blog, part of a series of invitational posts on Sabbath-keeping. To add to my growing convictions on the subject, on the second day of my summer vacation, our dear Pastor Greg brought us to and through Psalm 130, emphasizing the eager anticipation expressed in the word wait: I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his Word I hope: my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning (vv. 5-6). I’m beginning to see that a sustainable, joy-filled Sabbath-keeping has more to do with an eager anticipation of discovering the LORD than in a careful tithing of my mint, dill, and cumin (Mttw. 23:23).

Dana and I, long ago (before we were married), threw our trust onto the Lord to sustain us and meet our needs even if we were to give away 10% or more of our money. He has proven himself a faithful Father and provider in this. Why, then, does it seem so difficult to trust the Lord to meet our productivity needs if we would give away 14% of our week in exchange for delight in the Lord? When I was praying about this last night, I realized my fear is the horrors of cramming seven days of work into six. I already put in long days; what would it mean for me to add those activities I usually leave for Sundays, like bookkeeping (and what if I sort of like a few hours of this anyway?), laundry (does it matter that this doesn’t take a lot of extra time?), and school prep (well, I admit, I’m not usually energized by this one) to the other, already full, six days? I guess embracing the unseen based on God’s say-so alone, is the very definition of faith (Heb. 11:1), isn’t it? Perhaps he would have me test him in this.

What follows is Katie Kump’s short May 23rd post on Sabbath-keeping.  In it, she identifies three profound lessons she has learned as one who once embraced, then forsook, then re-claimed Sabbath keeping in her life (for her, Saturdays).

“Sabbath-Keeping” by Katie Kump

In the middle of my college career I first found Sabbath rest to be a relief rather than a rule. The message of God’s power and sovereignty pressed deeply as I navigated the over-achieving culture at Georgia Tech. We were doing, having, and achieving it all. As a first-born, perfectionist, people-pleaser, my soul needed to know who God really was.

For the first time in my life I considered how Sabbath rest was meant to rightly swell my view of God, giving life, relieving stress, and demolishing worry. I found how expanding my heart with the glory of God was key to expanding my lungs with the very breath of grace. God of the heavens breathed life into my lungs and said, Trust Me. I gave Him my Saturdays, and Sabbath became the exhale of dependence. I could rest because He never needs to.

Keeping Sabbath means all my abilities and success are found in Christ.
When I graduated from college without a full-time job, I began babysitting to support myself while I figured out what in the world I would do with my life. I needed to make $400 each week in order to pay for my rent, insurance, gas, and meals. When each hour of childcare represented one portion of my sustenance, turning down jobs seemed out of the question. My boundaries evaporated, and before I knew it, Sabbath rest had vanished.

It wasn’t until I was exhausted, exasperated, and frustrated that I realized I was working seven days most weeks of the month. As soon as my time represented a dollar amount my bank account seemed to sorely need, God’s sovereignty over all my time was forgotten. It took all thoughtfulness and self-control, but I began to decline jobs so as to keep one day each week for resting. Sabbath was soul care. My generous God poured into me all the love and affection I was paid to pour out into little hearts the other six days. I never went without.

Keeping Sabbath means He loves to provide for my every need.
In this current season of life, where full-time work and marriage and ministry vie for all my time and energy, Sabbath takes deeper meaning still. Sabbath reminds me I am in no way able to be all things to all people. My life is limited. But the limitations birth sweet reliance on my Maker; He is able to do exceedingly more than all I can ask or imagine.

My identity is freed by Sabbath rest from all its striving to be the perfect wife, very best friend, and brilliant homemaker. Sabbath reminds me my life is hidden with Christ in God. Sabbath, both the hard work and the harder rest, are the outworking of my trust in His promises: He who calls me is faithful; He will surely do it.

Keeping Sabbath means I am defined not by my performance, but by the sufficient, saving work of Jesus on my behalf.
In all these seasons Sabbath has been an idol-slayer. Where success, material needs, and performance could consume my heart with anxiety, Jesus, whose blood frees me from slavery to sin, has invited me to rest. Keeping Sabbath is not an added demand on my time or conscience.

Keeping Sabbath renders to God His own glory as I rest in the One who neither slumbers nor sleeps. And keeping Sabbath is a means of grace, an invitation to live in the freedom and love Jesus died to provide, humble King washing my feet and calling me His own, week in and week out.

Bible Reading, original oil by Becky Porter, ©
(used by permission)

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