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More Than a Day Off


By Richard W. O'Ffill

I'm glad that God has given us the opportunity to be born. But the best part is that we have been born into His family. So we have two birthdays to celebrate. The first one when we came into the world, and the second when we came into the kingdom of heaven.

I have been an Adventist all my life. Are there any others like me? So the Sabbath is something that has been in my life from as long as I can remember. Where do we get the Sabbath? We get it from the Fourth Commandment:

“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shall not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

The fact that we are here today shows that we want to please God, being in His house on His day. But for some the Sabbath is boring; for others it is frustrating. For still others, maybe even the majority, if we were to be asked how the Sabbath is for us, we might reply that we’re not sure. I might even confess that the Sabbath has sometimes put me on a guilt trip. You see, ask me how I should keep the Sabbath, and I can tell you twenty things that you shouldn't do. All right, now we know what we’re not supposed to do. What should I do on the Sabbath? Do you see what I mean? What do we do on the Sabbath? Well, we go to church, and then we . . . . And so for some the Sabbath is not a blessing, it is a guilt trip. We know we have our feet on it in some way.

I can remember the good old days, however. In the good old days, we got ready for the Sabbath before it came. Do any of you remember those days? That was before life became so fast paced. Getting ready takes time. Someone told me just the other day that they sometimes don’t arrive home from work until after Sabbath has already come.

Now that more and more wives are working outside the home and husbands may be commuting fifty miles a day, we don't get ready for the Sabbath the way we used to. Back when I was a child, we polished our shoes on Friday. We pressed our suits. I can remember mother cleaning the house, baking, and cooking. And when Sabbath was just about here, she called us together, we sat down, and we had worship. That's the way it used to be.

But this modern life is not that way anymore. For too many people nowadays, the Sabbath is an interruption in their lives. Have you ever been going down the highway when you are just out riding, and all the stoplights seem to be green and you go sailing along? But, should you be on urgent business and need to get somewhere fast, the stoplights seem to all go red on you? How does that make you feel? Don't you become irritated and think you’re never going to get where you need to on time? You look at your watch and think maybe the red light was broken because it’s been red for so long. And when the light finally turns green and the car in front of you takes off too slowly, what do you do? Toot! Toot!

For many of us, the Sabbath is like a red light in our lives. Here we are, working hard, living our lives. Friday comes, and the sun starts to set. And then we have to put on the brakes in our life, and we skid into the Sabbath. For some of us, we put on the breaks so hard that we actually fly into the intersection, if you know what I mean. And then we have to back off a little and wait and watch our clocks, and wait and watch our clocks until Sabbath is over. Then it's just barely sundown, but our tires squeal and we take off pell-mell back into life again.

Sound pretty familiar? But for the young people, Sabbath is worse than that. They look at Sabbath rather like being in jail. They’re prisoners. They say or can't do anything, and they can’t go anywhere. They can't wait until Sabbath is over.

I was talking with a person who hadn't been an Adventist very long. He said, "When I became an Adventist, nobody ever told me what to do on Sabbath, so I have just sort of been ‘winging it’. I like that expression--he was ‘winging it’. Do I dare say that perhaps some of us who have been Adventist all our lives may still be ‘winging it’.

I'm wondering if some of us older timers may have developed our own creative ways of Sabbath keeping. You hear once in a while that when church is over, some people don't go to pot luck, they go to the Olive Garden. In fact, someone told me that in one church, the hostess took the church visitors out to a restaurant to eat. A person might say, "What's wrong with that? I don't get a Sabbath day's blessing cooking dinner. I would rather let somebody else cook."

Some people say they get a Sabbath day blessing by spending time in the swimming pool, going to the beach, or sitting around watching a little TV.

Matthew 11:28 says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." There's no doubt about it, I labor and I’m heavy laden. Aren't you? And I need rest. I feel there is something special for us in the Sabbath, and I'm afraid I may be missing it if I’m not careful. I want that rest. I am ready for it. In Hebrews 4:9. It says, "There remaineth also a rest to the people of God. Let us therefore labor to enter into that rest." I'm ready to labor for it now. God has something special for me on Sabbath. I want it. I need it.

What is the Sabbath? What's it all about? Some have called the Sabbath Adam’s mother’s birthday. Do you get it? You didn't know Adam had a mother? Who is Adam's mother? The earth. He was made out of the dust of the earth. So, as God finished creating the planet, He rested on the seventh day from all of His work that He had made. And so the Sabbath is Adam’s mother’s birthday.

Thinking of the Sabbath as a birthday is a nice thought--the birthday of the planet, the birthday of God's creation, the birthday of the creation of the human race. But there’s something wrong about thinking of the Sabbath as a birthday.

A birthday is a one-man show. On a birthday, who is the center of attention? Me. “Happy birthday to me”. That's why I say that a birthday is a self-centered day. It's about me. A birthday is a selfish thing. What are you going to get me for my birthday? Who do I think of on my birthday? I think of me.

Rather than a birthday, I believe the Sabbath is more like a wedding anniversary. What's an anniversary about anyway? And anniversary is not about me, it's about us. In the same way, the Sabbath is not about Saturday. We thought it was, didn't we? No, the Sabbath is not about Saturday, it's about God and me; it's about God and you. A wedding anniversary is for married people. If you don't happen to be married, then wedding anniversaries don’t do anything for you. But when you have been married, a wedding anniversary will bring back many memories.

This is why the Sabbath is not for everybody. The Sabbath, according to the Scripture, is a sign between God and the people who serve Him. If people don't serve God, if people don't have Jesus as Lord of their lives, then the Sabbath is not for them. That's why when we think about it clearly, the world doesn't need the Sabbath. Sometimes we think if we just preach the Sabbath to all the world, we will finish the work. No, the Sabbath is not what the world needs. The world needs Jesus. The Sabbath comes after Jesus, just like the wedding anniversary comes after you get married. So when we get Jesus, afterward we get the Sabbath. It is a sign of our anniversary. The Scripture says that the Sabbath is a sign that Jesus is the Lord of our lives.

When you really love someone, an anniversary can be a special and exciting event. But the problem with wedding anniversaries is that they come only once a year. Fortunately, God knew we needed more than a once-a-year quality time with Him. For that reason, He has given us an anniversary, if you please, every seven days. God says, “Six days shall you labor, six days you have to work, six days you have to keep your nose to the grindstone. But you are free on the seventh day, because that's our day, that's for just Me and you.

I don't know why we get so hung up on the Sabbath, as if God has taken something away from us. Some of us look at it that way, at least. “I can't do that, it's Sabbath.” “I'd like to, but it's Sabbath.” It isn't that way on your wedding anniversary. Supposing It's your wedding anniversary, and you and your wife/husband are going out. I come along and say, "Hey, why don't you come over tonight?" You would respond, "No, thank you." I might ask you, "What's the matter, don't you like me?" And you would say, "I like you all right, but tonight my wife/husband and I are going to go out. It's our anniversary." Can't you see how it goes? Sabbath is our time with God. It belongs to us. It's our birthday, anniversary, and Christmas all in one day. If I asked you to come to work on Christmas, you would say you'd rather not because it's your day off. The Sabbath is more than a day off; it's more than a holiday. The Sabbath is a holy day.

When God gave us the Sabbath, He did not take anything away from us. It's the world that will take the Sabbath away from us. Don't let them do it. Have you been working hard this week? How did it go? I had a pretty good week, but it was a hard week. I don't know if you know it, but out there in the world. it's hard going. Have you found that out yet? You think that living life on this planet it easy, then you have just arrived. Sometimes I think I can't make it any more. Have you ever had that feeling? Sometimes you think you can't go on.

I have some good news for you. Friend, you are never more than six days away from being set free. You can take it if you know you don't have to take it for more than six days. You can take a boss who is mean if you don't have to take it seven days a week. Come unto me, Jesus says, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. I need that rest. I really do.

The question that comes to mind is, How are we going to get the most benefit from this day God has given us? It's a good question, and most of us haven't thought it through. Or, if we have thought it through, we can list the things that we ought not to do, but can we list the things that we can and should do?

Here are some suggestions. Remember, now, the Sabbath is not about the clock or the calendar, it's about our relationship with God. Just like your anniversary is not about June 19, it's about your husband/wife. So the Sabbath is about relationship.

I’m going to put up a ridiculous scenario to illustrate a point. Supposing my wife’s and my anniversary is June 19. It's coming along, and my wife asks me, "What are we going to do for our anniversary?" And further, she suggests, "Why don't we go out to eat at Antonio’s?"

I might respond, "Yes, let's do that."

Then she might say, "You know, it will be so nice to be alone. I have been having such a hard time on the job and have been so busy lately, it will be nice to be alone with you for a change."

Supposing I come back with, "What do you mean alone? I was going to bring someone."

She would ask, "Who were you going to bring?"

And just supposing I would respond, "I was going to bring Alice."

After screaming a little, my wife would ask incredulously, "You were going to bring Alice? That's your old girlfriend! You're going to bring her to our wedding anniversary?"

A ridiculous illustration, isn't it? Needless to say, I would be toast. And yet sometimes, we want to bring our old boyfriends and girlfriends to our anniversary celebration with God. Listen to what God says: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." And again, "Friendship with the world is enmity with God." This means that God gives you the Sabbath, and He wants it to be quality time between you and Him. So when you’re thinking about what is appropriate to do on that special day, you don’t want to bring your old boyfriends and girlfriends. Do you see what I mean? This is why I don't go to the beach on Sabbath--too many of my old girlfriends. Not in person, but the beach is for other days, other times, but not on our anniversary. This is why I don't go out to eat on the Sabbath--too many of my old girlfriends.

Love not the world or the things that are in the world. He who loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. If I were to bring my old girlfriends to my wedding anniversary, my wife would begin to wonder whether I really care about her. If you are spending Sabbath just mixing with the world, it makes God wonder if you really care about Him.

Let me tell you what I'm doing, and I'm enjoying it more and more. I'm going back to the way it used to be when I was a child. Back when I was a child, we used to get ready for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was not a red light. The Sabbath was not something that stopped us in the middle of our lives. The Sabbath is where we were going. I don't enjoy the cares of this life. Do you like them? Do you like the boss chewing you out? Do you like to be worked over like an old rag? I don't like that. So I'm looking forward to the Sabbath, to coming to Jesus, when I can enter into His rest and get away from it all. It is for that reason He gives me this little nip, this little piece of heaven called the Sabbath. He says, "Come, enter into My rest, and I'll show you what heaven will be like." No, the Sabbath is not a red light for me. The Sabbath for me is not a railroad crossing with the arm down, and me sitting there for 24 hours wishing the train would pass.

So, let me tell you what I'm doing these days. I've decided that I'm not going to do anything on Friday afternoon that’s not getting ready for Sabbath. That's not too hard to comprehend. If I want to catch a plane that’s leaving tomorrow morning, you can be sure I'm going to get up on time, and I'm going to be ready so I'll be on that plane. I'm not angry about it; it's just what a person does. If we work to get ready for the Sabbath, it can actually be fun for us, and we would look at the Sabbath as a joy, a gift in our lives. Soon I'll be done with the troubles of the world, so I'm going to spend Friday afternoon getting ready.

You may be thinking, "Sure, you can do that, but I can't do that. I can't get ready for Sabbath on Friday afternoon, because I don't have enough time. I work until late." If you don't have time to pack your suitcase the day the plane leaves, I’ll bet you’ll pack it the day before. And if you don’t have time to pack the suitcase the day before, then you’ll pack it the day before that. Maybe getting ready for the Sabbath is something some of us have to do all week long. I do whatever it takes; because when the Sabbath comes, check me out--I'm going to enter into His rest!

Friday afternoon, then, I help my wife clean the house. If you need more time, start Thursday evening. Listen, you men, I have news for you. Remember when the little lady worked in the home? They called them housewives. Remember those days? You could expect her to clean the house while you went out and drove the truck. But now you're driving the truck and she's running the typewriter, or working in the hospital, or wherever, and you both get home at the same time. Don't leave cleaning the house to her; that's not fair.

My wife didn’t get home as early as I did on Friday afternoons, so when I got home I start cleaning the house. I live there, too. I helped get it dirty. You may think it's not macho, it's not cool, to clean the house. But I want my house, where I live, my nest, to be ready for that special Sabbath moment. Because when it comes, I want everything to look good, smell good, and be good. So on Friday afternoon, I help get ready so that when the sun goes down I'm sitting on the couch, living like a king. Does that sound bad to you? That's not bad. I feel honored when I do that. I feel special.

Throughout the house, I put out candles. There are many different types of candles, some of them quite expensive. We buy very inexpensive and practical candles. You can buy them at most supermarkets. They are meant to be prayer candles -- wax candles in tall glasses. Some of the candles have a prayer written on them and pictures of the “saints” but we don’t buy those, we buy only the plain ones. We’re not new-agers or hippies. There's nothing wrong with candles. Jesus is the light of the world, and He tells us to let our light shine. So we have candles throughout the house, and I light them several hours before the sun goes down. I like that. It's fun to have traditions. And it makes the time really special.

On Friday night, our family has another tradition. We have been doing this for more than 25 years, although it develops and gets better all the time. We have our Friday supper in the dining room. I'm talking about big time. I'm talking about being in the dining room with a tablecloth. You probably think it's an expensive tablecloth. But no, my mother-in-law gave it to us, and it’s just a piece of yard goods from K-Mart. But anyway, it looks pretty. So we set the tablecloth on the table, and we take down our best glass dishes and our stainless steel cutlery, and I set the table as pretty as I can -- napkins and all.

And then I take hymnals and set them around at each plate. This goes, whether it's just my wife and me or whoever happens to be home at the moment. We sit around the table and sing. You may say that you can't sing. Neither can my wife and I. When we sing alone, we sound just horrible. But when any of our children are there, or if we happen to have company, it sounds rather good. We sing for maybe five minutes, depending on how pretty it is. If it sounds good, and we're enjoying it, we sing a little longer. Then we read a responsive reading. We take turns reading all around the table. Then we sing, "Don't Forget the Sabbath." Remember that song?

After we sing, "Don't Forget the Sabbath," we say together the Fourth Commandment; and then we pray and eat. Guess what we eat every Friday night? Pizza. You thought I was going to say some holy food, didn't you? But it's not pizza from Domino's. We don't have it brought in. My wife makes it with a prepared crust, or maybe on a round of pita bread, with a tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Sometimes we buy a frozen pizza. When we lived overseas, she used to make the pizza from scratch, from the sauce up. But now she gets things here and there and puts it together--nothing fancy or difficult or expensive. When the children come home to visit, they want to have mom’s pizza. That's the way Friday evening goes for us.

Sabbath morning can present a little problem when it comes to getting the most out of Sabbath. You want to go to church, but you have many things to do to get ready. Now, I must admit, it's not as much fun going to church as it ought to be. Some of us have as much trouble getting ready to church as we do getting ready to go to work every day. And sometimes in the church we don't love each other the way we ought. But I think the closer we get to the end, we will find it more and more necessary to go to church. To be able to come into the church door and know that we are among friends, to be able to come into the door of the church and know that people here love us and care about us and accept us and appreciate us, makes the church at little like getting your battery recharged. Then you start to think on Wednesday that you can't wait for Sabbath to be among people who really care. That's what the church is for.

We have been missing the mark, a little, I think. But church will get better as the times get harder. So going to church is something we need to do. Don't miss church. By the way, if you wake up in the morning on Sabbath and you feel you don't want to go to church, call up the pastor and say, "Help, Pastor, help. I don't want to go to church. Come and drag me by force. I know I should be there." It's crazy, but when we get sick physically, we call the ambulance to take us to the hospital. But when we get sick spirit surely, instead of going to the hospital, we usually head the other way. When you start feeling like you want to be away from church, that's the time to get to church.

Now you say, What am I going to do on Sabbath afternoon? I don't know what you’re going to do. But remember one principle: Don't spend it with your old boyfriend. You know what I mean. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. Remember, you are not the only one honoring God on His day. You will usually be safer in the company of other Sabbath keepers. It just makes it better.

What to do on Sabbath afternoon? Why do we puzzle over that question? If I were to ask you what you’re going to do next Wednesday, you probably could tell me. You would say you’re going to get up at such and such a time, have breakfast, and go to the office, and do such and such. If I were to ask you what you’re going to do the following Monday morning, you could probably tell me what you're going to do. But I f I ask you what you're going to do Sabbath afternoon, you sometimes can't think of a thing. You might say, "Sleep, I guess." We need to make plans for what we're going to do on Sabbath, just the same as we make plans for what we’re going to do the other days of the week.

You might wonder what I think about sleeping. I think it's nice. In fact, I try to plan, if I can, to take a little nap of maybe an hour. I need to take a nap once in while. I get up early and go to bed late too often. A nap is okay, but don't sleep all Sabbath afternoon. If you do, you’ll be cheating yourself. Not only do we need physical rest, we need a change of pace. Life gets to be pretty much of a grind. Sabbath can break that grind and give you a new outlook on life if you plan what you’re going to do. Be with God's people as much as possible, away from the old boyfriends and girlfriends. Rest a little, if you need to. I know I need to. Spend some devotional time. Talk with the family. Talk with your spouse. Talk with your children. Sometimes we don't say much more to our family than "Uh Huh," and "Uh Uh," and “Pass the salt." But if we will spend a little time on Sabbath talking and getting acquainted with our family, we will find that we have a pretty nice family after all.

We need to do things on Sabbath—get up and get moving. I know that, if you live on the 15th floor in downtown New York City, it's pretty hard to take a nature walk. But some of us can get outside and take a walk. I like to look up. If you feel as though the world is about to crash in on you and you have psychological claustrophobia, look up, even at the clouds. They can be a blessing and an inspiration. So goes Sabbath afternoon.

Be careful what you do on Saturday night. You can mess up a wonderful Sabbath blessing by what you do on Saturday night. Just like sitting there waiting for the light to change, we can go speeding down the road at the crack of sundown. Sometimes we Adventists make fools of ourselves on Saturday night. We’ve been holy rolly all day, but on Saturday night we do some pretty weird things. I'm not saying it's as bad as it could be, but let’s leave the Sabbath slowly. If Sabbath is the joy and blessing God means for it to be, you’re not going to want to let it go the minute it reaches sundown. You’re going to want to let it go slowly--let it slip out of your hand. And when it's gone, you’re going to say, "Oh, I can't wait until it comes back again."

The Sabbath blessing doesn't end when the sun goes down. There remains a rest to the people of God. The Sabbath is a symbol and an opportunity to experience that rest, to experience peace. Jesus says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." I want to tell you, I need that rest. I think there is something I've been missing, and I'm willing to make some effort and to pray to God, "Oh God, if You have something for me on our special day that I have been missing, if You have been willing to do something for me, Lord, that I've been missing because I've been fooling around, oh God, I'm ready to stop and to get serious."

As you experience growth with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Sabbath will grow in your life. A wedding anniversary doesn't mean anything to a couple who has cooled off in their feelings for each other. Yet it will become more and more significant to the couple whose love is ever growing and whose appreciation for each other is increasing.

I want to ask a question. How do you feel about the Sabbath? Do you suspect, like I do, that we have been missing something? Do you share the feeling in your heart that if there's something special God has for you on His day, you want it? If this sounds corny to you, maybe you haven't been married yet. Maybe Jesus is not the Lord of your life the way you know He ought to be, the way He wants to be.

There's something here for all of us. I hold up Jesus Christ and recommend Him to you as something that can mean everything to you, that can make all the difference in your life. When Jesus is Lord of our life, the Sabbath becomes something we’re not going to let the world take away. Let us therefore fear, lest any of us should come short of the promise left us of entering into His rest. For we which have believed have entered into rest. Let us therefore labor to enter into that rest; because there remains, therefore, a rest to the people of God.

I'm glad the Sabbath doesn't come just once a year. We have another chance every seven days. If you weren't ready for the Sabbath when it came this week, you have another chance next week. If you didn't have planned what you’re going to do next Sabbath, you have another chance to plan it. God wants you to grow in grace. He wants you to be a winner. He wants your Christian life to go up. One of these days it's going to be all over. One of these days we're going to be with Him, and we will enter into that rest. We're going to be done with this veil