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Sabbath

Simple moments in which to bear witness


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I’d never thought of a John Deere tractor as a tool of evangelistic outreach. And even now, I’m still not totally sure I’ve got this whole picture in proper focus.

I’ve been thinking these thoughts since a recent Sunday morning when one of our neighbors uncharacteristically interrupted our typically quiet agenda with the roar of her green and yellow lawn mower. Never before had she invaded our Sunday serenity in such a manner. What had happened in her life to prompt such a change?

All sorts of crazy questions and silly conclusions raced through my brain. Was she listening to a new preacher? Was she going suddenly to a different church? Had she simply changed her mind about Sabbath-­keeping? Does she even know what that quaint phrase means in this secular society?

I yearn to be ready to tell her of the freedoms God’s people are privileged to enjoy.

The fact is that all of us—would-be covenant keepers and covenant ignorers—are constantly sending messages back and forth about changes in our circumstances. But who knows? What we’re watching might be something as monumental as a death in the family, dictating that somebody new has to step forward to mow the lawn. Or it might be as trivial as someone having forgotten to fill the gas can, leaving one of yesterday’s tasks for today.

In this case, I found myself trying feebly to interpret the signals as best I could. In that process I was seriously falling back on some highly outdated tools. I say “outdated” because I think those tools were probably shaped in my childhood. When as a youngster I saw an Iowa farmer plowing a field on Sunday, I tended immediately to pronounce him a nonbeliever. If I saw a gas station on Sunday with a “CLOSED” sign on the door, I glibly concluded the owner was a serious Christian. (I do remember my mother pointedly reminding me once: “Joel, don’t forget there are other things to keep in mind!”)

“But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” And among those less mature habits the Apostle Paul says should be “put away” are the knee-jerk responses we too easily resort to in determining who is in the kingdom and who is not. Even for the leaders of Christ’s Church, who are assigned the task of saying “yay” or “nay” to new members, it can be a nuanced decision. I think I’ve spent too many hours of the time of God’s people chasing those nuances.

But back to John Deere tractors. I wish I had through the years formed a friendship with my neighbor that made it easy and natural for me a couple Sundays ago to wander over to learn what had brought about this sudden change in her schedule.

Certainly, this was not quite the time to run her through a checklist of behaviors allowed, and those disallowed, for people who aren’t much in the habit of thinking about keeping God’s commands. I yearn instead to be ready to tell her of the freedoms God’s people are privileged to enjoy. If she has ever noticed what my mowing habits might be, does she have any sense that they are shaped more by joy than by duty? I hope so.

And if my neighbor’s John Deere helps me read the signals about what’s happening in her family’s life, isn’t that almost certainly all to the good? I need all the help on that front I can get. If we had 50-100 believers in every community sensitively reading such signals and giving faithful witness about the freedom God showers on his people, we just might end up with huge revival.


Joel Belz

Joel is WORLD’s founder. He contributes regular commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. Joel has served as editor, publisher, and CEO over three decades at WORLD and is the author of Consider These Things. Joel resides with his wife, Carol, near Asheville, N.C.

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S LEWIS

What an incredibly good column! Reminds me of the McKinney’s fabulous little book about neighbors - Placed for a Purpose.

MPOL5798

May I suggest another reason for change of habit? She may be keeping the Sabbath. About 35 years ago our neighbors noticed such a change in our routine. We had not abandoned the joy of following the Lord's instruction (Torah) but rather had come to a greater appreciation and understanding of it. We keep the seventh day holy and mow on the first day. Thank you for you commitment to challenge and encourage us in our Christian walk.