Guest Post: The Sabbath Day and the Change Within Me

By Keith Y.

I grew up in the 1950-60’s as a Baptist.  We went to church on Sundays, but only when there were no conflicting family activities planned.  My Mother was a devoted Christian while my Dad was less inclined to enjoy listening to a sermon.  I suspect that is why my Dad frequently planned family visits to relatives on weekends, thus eliminating the opportunity to attend church.  I loved having two-day weekends for fun and play. 

In 1968 a lot of things changed for me.  I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) after a two-year investigation.  When I found I had a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and the Bible, I was baptized.  There were still parts of the Latter-day Saint faith that I didn’t fully comprehend but given more time I felt that I might be able to fully understand.  One of those parts was the importance Mormons placed on keeping the Sabbath day holy.

I must have inherited my Dad’s propensity to avoid Sunday meetings and restrictions, as one of my most difficult adjustments I needed to make was in how I used the Sabbath.  I saw nothing wrong with playing sports or shopping on Sunday afternoon, yet this was considered a violation of the Sabbath.  I made the necessary adjustments to comply but without a full understanding.

While reading the Old Testament I reread the commandments found in Exodus 20.  I learned new things about my Father in Heaven that day, reading the same commandments that I have read and heard all my life.  The commandments vary in length with two commandments as short as four words.  I was surprised in this reading to find the longest commandment by far was about the Sabbath Day—it was four verses and 94 words.  Why would there be so much devoted to the Sabbath I wondered.  This question caused me to reread carefully what it said.  This is what I learned:

  • Verse 8:  We are to keep the day holy.  Since joining the LDS church I had learned more about what holy means.  Holy means to set apart for sacred purposes.  The opposite of holy is common or even profane.  This hit home—the day itself is a day of holiness.
  • Verse: 9: This was always understood, realizing that sometimes work on Sunday can’t be avoided, such as, nurses, emergency workers, transportation, etc.
  • Verse 10:  This verse held the information I needed.  Prior to this reading I saw no issue with buying gas or groceries on a Sunday, yet the LDS faith encourages us not to shop on Sunday.  In this verse it advises us not to work on the Sabbath but also don’t require “thy manservant, nor thy maidservant” to work either.  It was a light bulb that came on for me.  This changed my personal paradigm regarding the Sabbath.
  • Verse 11:  It is a day of rest for the Lord and now it is for us as well.

So my Sabbath days no longer consist of going to stores or making others work for my benefit.  Sunday consists of attending church, participating in Sunday meetings, partaking of the Sacrament to renew my allegiance to the Savior, serving others, studying the scriptures, enjoying family, and resting from my weekly labors.

We are later told in Mark 2:27 that the “Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”  Like all other commandments, they are given to us for our benefit and development.  The Sabbath is for our own development, so we can become more like Him.

I provide this simple insight not to convert you to my beliefs, but perhaps to enlighten you on your own beliefs. Had I understood the concept of the Sabbath earlier I would have been blessed by living by its principles sooner.

Experiment upon the word – explaining fast and testimony meeting

Imagine you are a scientist. You’re in a room full of fellow-scientists holding an important meeting. In this meeting, each scientist stands and shares his or her latest experiments, how he or she applied scientific principles in those experiments, and what each scientist has learned as a result of those experiments. The purpose of the meeting is to share this acquired knowledge and experience with fellow-scientists, so that:

  1. the scientists gain additional insight into how they can further apply reliable scientific principles – perhaps in ways similar to that their peers – or perhaps in new circumstances suited to new phenomena, albeit with familiar principles; and, so that
  2. the scientists build a community with like-minded people working toward the same goal – to acquire knowledge and experience to better themselves and the world. 

If you can create a fairly clear picture of this type of meeting in your mind, then you’re not too far off from the intent of something called fast and testimony meeting in the Mormon tradition. Basically, fast and testimony meeting is a monthly Sunday service where, after the sacrament (bread and water) has been passed to attendees, members of the congregation can stand and share their testimonies – or, in other words, how they’ve applied gospel principles in their lives and what truths they’ve learned in the process.

Here’s a real life example from my ward’s fast and testimony meeting this last Sunday, 9/29:

  • Our lay bishop stood first and described how, when he first became bishop of our ward last year, he had a very busy work schedule, traveling across the country every week. That cramped little space on the airplane, it turns out, became “sacred ground” for him, because it’s where he opened his scriptures, read, thought about the needs of ward members, and received insights into how to best help certain individuals. As his life became busier, he explained, he grew so tired that he began falling asleep the second his head hit the back of that chair. As a result, he lost that sacred ground that for so long helped strengthen and sustain him. He felt that absence in his life and resolved to do something about it. Knowing he also needed adequate sleep (and that his seat on the airplane provided a pretty good setting for that, too), he created more time each morning and each evening in his hotel room to have that same contemplative, quiet time to study the scriptures and seek a spiritual center. The principle he learned (or relearned) was that we each need “sacred ground” in our lives to pray, read God’s word, and internalize gospel principles. If we make that time and create that sacred ground, we will draw closer to God, have a greater portion of His Spirit, and will not be “tossed, to and fro” with the challenges of life.

Others in the ward shared the joy they’ve felt as they’ve worked and served with one another in their responsibilities, even in the relatively mundane tasks – and especially in the more significant efforts, such as delivering meals to a new mother, preparing for a funeral, or visiting the sick and afflicted.

In this way, our scientists are ordinary people – some of them are well-educated, others dropped out of high school. Some are married and have children. Others are children themselves, while others are single, divorced, or widowed. Some struggle quietly under the weight of tremendous burdens, while others’ lives seem full of joy and relative ease. Their backgrounds, life stories, and current circumstances are all unique, but their principles are gospel principles, and their experiments are their daily lives and interactions with others – full of encounters, observations, and experiences as they strive to apply Christ’s teachings, the words of his prophets, and live the commandments.

This process of “experimenting” is even enshrined within our scriptural canon. The same prophet Alma, whom I wrote about the other day, taught this to a group of people:

if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words (Alma 32:27)

The promise Alma makes is that if I experiment upon the words of the prophets (what he calls “planting the seed”), I will know for myself whether their words are good, because those words will “enlarge my soul…enlighten my understanding…[and become] delicious to me” (Alma 32:28). Based on my experience, I can say that those experiments are worth attempting. As a very ordinary type of scientist, I’ve learned that those experiments yield light, goodness, and yes, a testimony of true principles. A good place to start is to carve out some sacred ground to assimilate those principles and plant the seed.

What was church like yesterday?

Dear Friend,

Since you couldn’t make it to church yesterday, I thought I’d give you a little update on what it was like. You may remember that our church service is made up of three different meetings or classes – each approximately one hour.

  • The main worship service is called Sacrament Meeting (70 minutes).
  • The second hour is Sunday School (50 minutes).
  • The final hour is additional small group instruction time for women (Relief Society); men and boys (Priesthood meeting); and young women (teenage girls). (50 minutes)
  • Kids between 18 months – 11 years old participate in Nursery and Primary during the 2nd & 3rd hours.

Let me tell you about Sacrament Meeting in our ward today.

The opening hymn sung by the congregation was hymn #277 As I Search the Holy Scriptures. Click on the link to hear the tune and follow along with the words. For me, the song captures some of the longing and the fulfillment I have felt in my life as I try to regularly study and learn from the scriptures, so it’s a personal favorite of mine.

The sacramental hymn, also sung by the congregation, was hymn #181 Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King.

The prayer over the sacramental bread was then offered, and some young men walked the trays of broken bread from row to row. The prayer over the sacramental water was offered next, followed by the young men passing the trays which hold little individual cups of water.

With this contemplative period coming to a close, the young men sat down and the sacrament program began. As usual, some preassigned members of the congregation stood to give some prepared remarks:

  • Speaker #1: A twenty-something year old woman from Orange County. Not a lifelong church member – not even a lifelong believer in God. Three years ago she said she had a wonderful life – she had a job, was going to school, and lived with a dog who loved her. One day she walked passed two women wearing black name tags. She politely smiled and said hello as she walked on, but said she felt immediate regret for not stopping to speak with them. Through several more serendipitous encounters with these women, she began meeting with them and eventually, after several months, she was baptized a member of the LDS Church. She compared her life before baptism to someone who’s color-blind but doesn’t know it – they can still have a good life, even if they don’t recognize or appreciate the richness of different colors in the world. But internalizing the principles of the gospel cured her color blindness and now she appreciates and values the things in life that she did not know were there.
  • Speaker #2: A mother of two young kids, also a registered dietitian, originally from Finland. Spoke about the importance of education – not just formal academic achievement, but of maintaining a love of learning throughout one’s life. She shared from her own experiences in college and graduate school that she felt more productive in her studies and learning when she first spent some time reading from and studying the scriptures. She retold a story from the Book of Mormon about two brothers who complain to their younger brother that they just don’t understand what their father recently taught them. The younger brother asks them, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” She used this to teach that God can help us understand and learn what we need to learn, whether that has to do with the gospel of Christ, or our physics lesson.
  • Speaker #3: the husband of speaker #2 – an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor). Time was running out, so he gave a very condensed version of his prepared message. But he continued along the same message of the importance of seeking to learn from the best books. He shared his testimony that learning and experiencing is one of the main reasons God put us on earth.  

The closing congregational hymn was hymn #304 Teach Me to Walk in the Light – a simple yet pleasant song whose message provided an additional reminder to seek learning and “loving guidance to show us the way.”

In another letter on another week, I’ll talk about the 2nd and 3rd hours. But hopefully this gives you at least a taste of what happened at church yesterday.

A Concluding Thought

The experience of being a Latter-day Saint is, of course, grounded in participatory learning and serving. The end goal is not just to assimilate knowledge and information – even scriptural knowledge, as helpful as it is. The ultimate objective is to internalize the principles of love, service, and Christlike compassion so that they actually change our natures, desires, and behaviors.

Dallin Oaks, an LDS leader, once saidIn contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.

The regular activity of church involvement – teaching, learning from, and working alongside others across the socioeconomic and ethnicity spectrums – help us internalize these truths and become something more than what we currently are. Our choices to exercise faith in the Savior and participate in such ordinances and service enable the grace of Christ to bring about this gradual transformation in our desires and character.

I hope next week you’ll “come and see” for yourself. Meetinghouse locator here, for wherever you are in the world.