October 30, 2016

Praise and Honor

It is the Lord's Day today, and I am at home resting. It has been a very long week, and praise be to God, I finished all my work, and now I am able to rest. In truth, I do have some small things to attend to today, but the big tasks that were on my "to do" list this week have been completed.

I am giving God all the glory, the praise, and the honor this good, good day. I couldn't have completed everything on my plate this week without His help. His grace and His mercy cover me from head to toe, and in this way, I am able to complete everything assigned to me and do these tasks well. He is good to me, so very good to me! Selah!

My heart swells with praise today, and I agree with the Psalmist who said, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord" (Psalm 150:6).

Sabbath and Sunday

Today is Sunday, and for many people, today is the first day of the week, the Lord's day. It is interesting to think about how often Christians confuse the Sabbath with the Lord's day. I was doing my bible reading today, and I asked the Lord why is this so -- I mean -- why is there such division regarding the purpose of the 7th day and the 1st day of the week. Interestingly enough, if you google "Sabbath" you will find all sorts of articles written by many knowledgeable individuals who will walk you through Scripture and show you the various proof-texts that establish Saturday as the Sabbath and Sunday as the Lord's day (or 1st day of the week).

Sometimes I think about why the Lord asked us to take one day out of seven for a day of rest. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was part of the ritual observances for the Israelite's. The Sabbath was a holy day, a day of no work. In the New Testament, we see Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath, as the fulfillment of the Sabbath requirement. Jesus produces miracles on the Sabbath, does "work" on the Sabbath, and even says that He has come to fulfill the requirements of the Law and the Prophets. Most people agree that in Jewish custom, the Sabbath was Saturday and Sunday was a normal work day. It was the first day of the week, and it was not considered to be a special day.

In Christian tradition, however, Sunday is observed as a day when the Lord's people gather together to celebrate His Resurrection life. We worship the Lord corporately on Sunday's and often we set it aside as a day of remembrance. Much like the Sabbath day for the Jews, Christian's often performed no work on Sunday. They attended church and then spent the day resting with family (or friends). It was a day of rest for the people of God. Monday became the first "work day," despite historic tradition that said it was not.

In our modern era, we see Christians choosing to forgo Sunday gathering to stay at home to watch Football or some other major event. We see families choosing to go shopping, to the movies, or even vacation all on a Sunday. Different families have different traditions, and despite these traditions, the family of Christ is often confused over what they are expected to do on each "Lord's day." For example, is attending an online church the same thing as attending a physical church building/service? Is watching a streaming sermon of some famous preacher the same as listening to a local pastor preach each week?

I struggle with the rules and regulations aspect of keeping religious traditions because they remind me of the Jewish laws that mandated how the people worshiped God as well as how they interacted with each other and with their local communities. It is not that I am "anti-law" or ordinance in any way, shape or form, it is just that sometimes I think about Paul who said in Romans 7:6-7 KJV,

"But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."

In this passage in specific, Paul was addressing the nature of the two laws, the old law (or the Mosaic law that included all the rules and regulations covering sacrifices, behaviors, etc.) and the new law (or the spiritual law that is written on the hearts of men under the New Covenant). As Christians, the old law or the Ten Commandments is still active in our world, but with the coming of Jesus, the Christ, the spirit of the law, the knowledge of right and wrong has been placed within our hearts and minds. In this way, the believer in Christ now has a way to "keep" the old law, to not sin against God, because of the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit who helps us to do so. We no longer need rules and regulations to force us to keep the law because we do it supernaturally through the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit of God.

Thus, when I think about the division within the church over things such as baptism, church attendance, and even what is "okay or not okay" to do on the Lord's day, I am reminded that we keep the Sabbath as a holy day because God ordained it to be so. We celebrate the Lord's day because it is good to remember Christ's death, burial and Resurrection. Sunday, however, is not a holy day according to the Bible. It is a day of work, a normal day, but it is a day set aside by Christians to spend time together, worshiping the Lord in corporate fellowship, and to remember Christ's sacrificial gift of life. In many ways, we choose to worship the Lord this way -- not because we are mandated in scripture to do so -- but because it is a good thing to do. It is good, it is useful, and it is beneficial to the brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Assembly of the Saints

As I process this line of thinking, I cannot help but meditate on the passages of scripture that remind us that it is important to meet together, to fellowship, and to encourage and build up the church regularly. The writer of Hebrews 10:25 (NLT) said, "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near" in order to remind the brothers and sisters to keep on doing good works. He said that the day of Christ's return is near, thus it is a good practice to spend time together, helping one another, while we eagerly wait for His return.

What is interesting to note is that fact that the writer of Hebrews was addressing a particular audience, one that was made up of recent Jewish converts. More so, these converts were considering leaving the true church to pursue an ascetic way or monastic way of life. This meant that they were being told that the best way to please God and to obey His commands was to withdraw from life, and to live in isolation and in celibacy. The writer of Hebrews clearly addresses this practice and reminds the believers to not follow this heretical teaching, and instead, to remember to assemble together regularly.

I was raised in a tradition that made it very difficult to "forsake the assembly." Any person who missed church more than occasionally, and then only if ill or out of town, was considered to be practicing "heathen" ways. Moreover, when traveling out of town, it was expected that you would attend church in a local congregation. Again, there was no rationale or justification from missing church. Even when ill, there was speculation on the part of the member. Questions were asked as to the nature of the illness, the seriousness of the illness, the length and time of the illness. These questions were not always asked in genuine seriousness either, rather they were asked in order to ascertain whether or not the person really was ill or whether they were simply avoiding the fellowship for the purpose of their own interests or gain (as in working or entertainment).

It is funny to think about how this type of legalism grew into the church, and how even today, we see legalism in and through many churches in America. In many ways, our churches have become similar to the religious synagogues of Jesus' time whereby the scribes and pharisees were quick to judge other people (picking the speck out of their brother's eye so to speak). In many ways, this happens in our Christian churches today. We are so quick to judge another brother or sister before we even really know their story, their circumstance, or their status. We seem bent on exposing the sinner, chastising the believer, and generally, pointing out the flaws, the deficiencies, and the errors of their ways.

My View

Today is the Lord's day, and for all intents and purposes, it is a special day that should be set aside to remember the grace and goodness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Should we keep to the practices, the traditions, the rules and regulations that have become so established within our modern churches or should we live by the spirit of the law instead of the letter? 

I am partial to traditions, but only in the ways they benefit our lives. For example, my students have been reading a lovely little essay by early 20th century English essayist, Hilaire Belloc, entitled, "A Remaining Christmas." In this lovely essay, Belloc writes about the traditions of Christmas in his small parish in rural England. In many ways, Belloc writes lovingly about these traditions, about the community celebrations, and how they can serve as a framework to steady us when the harshness of the times come upon us. In his day (1928), his country had just come through the Great War and tensions were escalating in Germany, leading to what would become the Second World War. Furthermore, there were hostilities between the church, between the Catholic and Protestant sects in the church. In all this divisiveness we are presented with the wonder and magic of Christmas, and in this way, we are able to see how our traditions, our rituals and our responses can serve as comforts to us when the world around us seems to be rushing headlong into destruction.

I think this is one of the blessings of traditions and ritual responses. I think there is a right place for traditions within the church as well as within our local communities. The key is to remember the place of tradition on our life. Is it a rule book, a harsh taskmaster, a system of impossible edicts and regulations? If so, then it is legalism and it smacks of the law. If it is a joyous response, a grateful praise to honor and to adore our Lord and Savior, then it is a true spiritual practice that is generated and gifted to us by the prompting of the Holy Spirit of God.

In Closing

As I think about this good Lord's day, I am reminded of my Savior and His great love for us. I am reminded that my life is good today because He is good. I am reminded that while I may not fellowship with my brothers and sisters as frequently as I should (and I admit it), I do so with a full heart, a sincere desire, and an understanding of the blessing and the benefit to myself as well as to others. It is a good thing, a good practice, a good tradition to keep.

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