WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — In a “Sabbath Rest and Flourishing” conference, the importance of finding rest in a 24/7 world was set forth at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The two-day conference at the North Carolina campus was held in partnership with Blessed Earth, an organization dedicated to serving God and caring for His creation.
Matthew Sleeth, Blessed Earth’s executive director, was the keynote speaker amid five learning sessions, musical worship, discussion time and videos from the “Sabbath Living” curriculum developed by Sleeth.
Sleeth, a former emergency room physician, recounted that he came to faith in his late 40s after years of “practicing the American religion, which is to have a good life; be successful; live in a good neighborhood; pay your bills; get more.”
Not long after becoming a Christian, Sleeth said his children “began to come to church with me to humor me” and “eventually all my family became followers of the Lord.”
As he read through the Bible, Sleeth began to see the importance of the Sabbath day, and the family soon began keeping a Sabbath.
Remembering the Sabbath is not only one of the Ten Commandments, but it is deeply connected to many of the others, Sleeth noted.
When Christians go to church, they are acknowledging God’s lordship and praising His name, he said. When families share a meal and spend time together, they are honoring their father and mother and protecting the marriage against adultery.
“A great thing about Sabbath that can’t be explained but can only be experienced is that by keeping it the Lord grows stronger in me,” he said. “That is a great thing.”
Sleeth then touched on the church’s cultural shift from Sabbath-keeping during his lifetime.
“Somebody wants to take this away from us,” he said. “Somebody wants to take families and naps and marriages that function away, and it’s the devil. That’s what we’re fighting here.”
Daniel Akin, Southeastern’s president, moderated a Monday night panel discussion featuring Sleeth, Mark Liederbach, the seminary’s dean of students and professor of theology, ethics and culture, and Larry Trotter, pastor of the local North Wake Church in Wake Forest, N.C.
The panel discussed what Sabbath-keeping means to them, the dangerous ways Christians often think about the Sabbath and whether Sabbath-keeping is a requirement or a recommendation.
“There’s a sense in which it’s the wrong question to ask if a commandment is a requirement or a recommendation,” Liederbach said. “In God’s greatness we should understand that when He gives commands He’s doing it not to keep us from something, but to do something for us, to provide for us, to protect us and to shape our character.”
Trotter emphasized the American church’s tendency to miss the spirit of Sabbath-keeping.
“It’s not like you can take a Sabbath day and then live six like the Kingdom of God depends upon you,” Trotter said. “So one of the things we do on Sabbath is to trust God with unfinished work, then to learn to live a pace of life that is an expression of that trust the other six days.”
Akin, drawing from Matthew 11:28 in which Jesus calls the weary to rest, said, “From beginning to end, the call to follow Christ is a call to rest in Him — to rest in His perfect work; to rest in His power; to rest in His strength; to rest in His forgiveness. We’re going to work hard, but we’re not going to burn out if we’re doing it in His strength.”
Blessed Earth, based in Lexington, Ky., is on the Web at www.blessedearth.org.