Monday, March 27, 2006

Sabbath Book Review The Rest Of God by Mark Buchanan

Is the Sabbath a day devoted to God? Or, a day devoted to Rest and Re-creation? Or, a day like any other? A few years ago I started seriously looking at how I keep the Sabbath. I decided that we would no longer spend money on the Sabbath. If we are out of milk, we are just out of milk. Planning ahead is key. No going out to eat after church either. We usually have leftovers or sandwiches. Only necessary chores are done on Sunday.

This is more of a rule than a law. If we are on the road, we stop at fast food joints and gas stations. If we have company in town, we sometimes go out to eat. A few times each semester I have to work a three-hour shift at the reference desk at work. But these are the exceptions, not the ‘rule,’ and they keep me from being legalistic.

I’m not sure what to do with football yet. I really enjoy watching pro football, but does it help me focus on God? I have backed off my mental and emotional commitment to football so it is just, simply, enjoyable, not something to get uptight about.

For these reasons I was excited to receive an offer to review Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring the Sabbath. (Purchase here or here.) The Rest of God is not a Bible study on the Sabbath, parsing every verse that mentions the day. It’s more like a personal journal, written to convince others of the need of Sabbath rest. Mr. Buchanan’s writing style is occasionally lyrical, and very personable. (“...your principal memory of [the Sabbath] is of stiff collars chafing at the neck and a vast, stern silence that settled on the house like a grief.”)

Each chapter ends with what the author calls a Sabbath Liturgy. Others would call the liturgy the practical application. Each liturgy is designed to get us God-focused. As he says, “Liturgy is by me...but it’s not about me.” “The first orientation for good Sabbath-keeping, ... is to practice, mostly through thankfulness, the presence of God until you are utterly convinced of his goodness and sovereignty, until he’s bigger, and you find your rest in him alone.”

The Bible has a lack of specifics on Sabbath-keeping. Buchanan finds this interesting. He decides “Sabbath-keeping is more art than science. It is more poetry than arithmetic.” This isn’t a lot of help for those who prefer lists of what is OK and what is verboten. After a discussion of Jesus healing on the Sabbath, and that healing making the Pharisees mad enough to plot his death; he says, “For the longest while I felt a smug pleasure in sitting in judgement of these legalists. And then I realized I was one of them... I developed some rules... prided myself in keeping them... then I started to find fault with those other people... when they dared to feel tired or stressed. Well, if you had kept the Sabbath holy – as I do – you wouldn’t feel that way, now, would you? It’s not too far from here to plotting murder.”

Buchanan wants us to get the big picture, “God gave us the gift of the Sabbath – not just as a day, but as an orientation, a way of seeing and knowing.” The author uses both meanings (day & orientation) in his exploration. Mostly, though, the book covers the orientation. “God is more interested in changing your thinking than in changing your circumstances.” Buchanan does not get involved in what day of the week Sabbath should be. That is not his point here.

“One of the largest obstacles to true Sabbath-keeping is leisure... Leisure is Sabbath bereft of the sacred.” Here he brings out the point about how many times we return from our vacations or other leisure activities more exhausted and drained than before. This is a good place to discuss football. Does it make me a better man to watch three to six hours of something complete with loud, annoying, materialistic commercials, or would that time be better spent in silence reading, talking with the wife, or playing with the kids? I think I’ll end this now. Ouch.

Recreation, or re-creation is another matter. Something that energizes you, even if it takes physical exertion, can be good. Buchanan works at a desk all week, so he enjoys mowing the lawn on his Sabbath. I can’t stand mowing the lawn, so that is not a re-creational activity for me. Not that I would be legalistic about it.

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redheadrev said...

This sounds like a really great book. I may just have to buy it! I am preaching on this very subject tomorrow. I wish I had already read the book! Thanks for highlighting some good quotes.

redheadrev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
redheadrev said...

I don't think pingbacks work with Blogger, so here is a link to my sermon. I credited you for the quotes I used. Thanks! Redhead Reverend