We have been enjoying a long weekend with my daughter and her family in Manhattan, Kansas. One of the fun parts of visiting them was attending the church plant to which they belong. Those involved in a new work often find the Lord putting them in interesting situations that call for flexibility and even a sense of humor.
The congregation rents out space in a senior center, which with its open welcoming area, meeting room, padded chairs, and smaller rooms for classes is well-suited for the congregation’s use on Sundays. However, there is another part of the center that other groups can rent. In the morning, a small church meets there and they have to make sure their visitors find the right place. In the evening, a dog training school uses this other area. So it was a bit humorous coming to church and walking in with people bringing their terriers and hounds. When Jonathan, the pastor, was finishing his message, he had to raise his voice over a chorus of barks coming from the other side of the building.
During the service I had to go out to the car to retrieve a pacifier for our grandson, Max, so that the pastor would not have to raise his voice over his squawks and loud coos. Out in the parking lot the owners with their canine sidekicks were going through the paces, the trainers teaching them how to make their dogs heel as they were led on a leash or pick up and then drop objects on command. As I passed by to go back into the service, I realized that I was heading back into my own “obedience school.”
For Jonathan was instructing us very convincingly on the Christian duty to keep God’s Law, and on this evening we were learning the importance of observing the Sabbath. A few of the high points he stressed were: the continuing, everlasting nature of the Sabbath commandment; the need to allow others – especially the lowly – to have the opportunity for Sabbath Day rest by not frequenting restaurants and businesses where they typically work; using the day to show mercy to others; how a capitulation in society regarding “blue laws” in the last century has progressively led our culture to forget God and thus capitulate on other moral laws; and how the fourth commandment in particular fulfills both of the two great commandments of loving God (“the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God”) and loving our neighbor (“you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you”). We concluded the time thinking upon how gracious the Lord is in giving us a day to rest our bodies and souls as we remember all that Christ has done for us.
Sadly, too many Christians view keeping the Sabbath Day as legalism. Yet as I watched the dogs receiving their training, so that they would be better suited for life and peace with their masters, it did not appear to be overly burdensome to them. They responded eagerly, looking to please their owner and receive praise for a job well done. The animals clearly were not following the commands in order to earn a place in a home, but trying to do what their owners who loved them were showing them to do. No one would ever think of accusing the trainers or pet owners of legalism. Similarly, the Lord has given us the moral law such as the fourth commandment that we might have life and peace with our Master and Lord.
As Sinclair Ferguson states in an excellent article, “Oh How I Love Your Law“:
In Scripture, the person who understands grace loves law.”
However, though it was right and proper that I spent some time in “obedience school” yesterday to remember these truths, for which I am thankful, my analogy does break down a bit. For the Lord is so gracious he even commanded Sabbath rest for animals (see above). So maybe we need to have those dog owners listen to Jonathan’s sermon. Not only might they give their dogs a day off of work, but they would hear of the Christ who offers eternal rest to them.