Forerunner, May 2007

Growing up in a religion that is different—some might say downright unorthodox—can be very difficult for young people because they do not want to be recognized as being different from others. Teenagers hate seeming odd, to say the least.

One of the doctrines and practices that sets us apart is the Sabbath. Many of our young people, especially those who attend public schools, have friends that are not associated with the church. Or perhaps they have "worldly" friends in their neighborhoods. There probably have been times when these friends wanted our teens to do things with them, such as going to parties, movies, ballgames, or malls on the Sabbath.

Usually, upon receiving such invitations, our young people look downcast and reply, "I'd love to, but my parents won't let me." And this is a right response because parents in the church do not want their children to do these things on the Sabbath, and their children know it.

But there is coming a time, young people, when you will no longer be able to say, "My parents won't let me."

A Championship on the Line

The following is a true story about a young man who grew up in the church. Like most church teens, he was not allowed to do certain things on the Sabbath. He was a very good friend of mine back when we attended the Worldwide Church of God in Columbia, South Carolina.

He was quite young when God called his parents into the church. Being a friendly, outgoing person, he had a good number of friends in the small town he lived in and the school he attended there.

He was also a talented athlete. In high school, his parents would not allow him to play football, but they did let him play on the high school baseball team. There was little conflict with the Sabbath because games during the regular season were played on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

But during his senior year they had a winning season, and they made the playoffs. Before them was the chance to play for the lower-state championship, but they had to win one more playoff game in order to move on. And as these things go, the game was scheduled for a Friday night.

Now our young churchgoer was one of the best players on the team, and everyone, including the coaches, wanted him to play in this game, although they knew he had never been allowed to participate in any Friday night sports activities before. So, some of his teammates came to him and told him, "You've got to play in this game Friday night! We need you in order to win! God will understand, and besides that, what's so wrong with it? Surely, your parents will let you play because it's so important that we win this game!"

He replied, "I'd love to, but my parents won't let me!" They begged and pleaded, but he insisted his parents would never let him play in a ballgame on the Sabbath.

Unbeknownst to him, they decided that they would talk to his parents. Growing up in a small town, they knew his parents well. So they spoke to his father, begging him to let his son play in this one game. Losing meant the end of a good season, and for the seniors, their last opportunity to play for the championship. Winning meant moving to the lower-state championship playoffs.

After listening to them for awhile, the father finally replied, "Boys, it's not my decision to make. My son is old enough to decide for himself."

Well, one can imagine just how excited they were, thinking that now their friend could play. Did he not say he would love to, but his parents would not let him? They went back and told the team, including the coaches, that his parents were letting him play in the game on Friday night.

When they found the young man, they jumped up and down, screaming, "You can play! You can play!"

He said, "You know I can't play! I told you, my parents won't let me."

But they said, "We know, but we talked to your father, and he said it was up to you, so now you can play!" He thought they were just kidding with him, so they said, "No, we're not kidding! Go ask your father." So he did.

His father told him, "Son, you're old enough to make your own decisions now. You're going to have to choose for yourself whether you're going to obey God or not. The choice is yours."

Deciding for Himself

Later, he told me that at that moment he felt as if the weight of the whole world had fallen on his shoulders. He now had to make this decision on his own. He could no longer dodge the issue and say, "My parents won't let me." He had to take responsibility for what he believed.

He called his teammates and coaches together and told them he would not be playing in that game Friday night. He made sure they understood that it was his decision not to play on the Sabbath, not his parents' decision.

Each young person in the church will one day reach a time when he or she can no longer say, "My parents won't let me." What will our young people decide? There will be times when things will seem to be right in their eyes, and they might think, "What's so wrong with doing this?" There will be times when they will just not understand why God commands His people to do certain things.

Kevin Trudeau, author of Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About, is not affiliated with any of the churches of God. He does not even mention God in his book at all. However, he mentions something about the Sabbath, of all things, although he does not specifically call it "the Sabbath." In the chapter, "How to Never Get Sick Again," under the heading, "You Must Reduce Stress," he writes, "Rest from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown." Then he gives us a reason why: "Each week the moon cycles are in position to promote healing and rejuvenation in the body. Resting during this time promotes the optimal rejuvenation of your cells."

Perhaps he is on to something. God certainly established the seven-day week at Creation and set an example of Sabbath-keeping for us by resting on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3). Setting this twenty-four hours apart each week will certainly benefit us physically, mentally, and emotionally, if only by reducing our stress! Jesus tells us in Mark 2:27, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." Everything God commands of us is for our good!

Yet, even though keeping the Sabbath provides a physical benefit, God does not intend us to consider it to be of primary importance. The most important benefits we receive from keeping the Sabbath are spiritual and have to do with maintaining and improving our relationships with God and with those who believe as we do. In other words, God definitely wants us to be healthy (III John 2), but even more, He wants us to be close to Him. This is the sort of principle we need to remember when we have to defend our keeping of the Sabbath, just as my friend was forced to do.

Basic Principles

But when similar circumstances arise, though the doctrine or practice might be different, it will be helpful to have a few basic verses memorized to give us guidance in choosing what the right thing to do is. The first one is Proverbs 14:12, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." We can rationalize all we want to about why we should do this or that, but if our reasoning is based on falsehood, the result will still be the same. If what seems to be right runs contrary to God's instruction—particularly His Commandments, which summarize the Bible's basic standards in ten understandable laws—it will eventually lead us to ruin and death.

This same principle of man's way leading to destruction is so important that it is mentioned again in Proverbs 16:25. We live in a worldly system that is designed by Satan to entice and deceive us into thinking that sin is not so bad. Thus, when we begin to rationalize, that is, to attempt to justify with reasons of our own, we need to remember the warning of this verse.

The next bit of Scripture we should commit to memory is Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." "Lean on" is used here in the sense of relying upon or trusting someone or something for help or protection. The object of our secure trust is the Lord, a most reliable object of confidence!

When we lean against a wall or on a cane, we trust it to support us. If it should fail to do its job, we will fall to the ground and perhaps be hurt. In a figurative sense, in times of distress we lean on members of our families or friends; we rely upon them for encouragement, support, help, or protection. In this verse, "lean on" functions figuratively. Relying on our own understanding is compared to leaning on a cane that cannot bear our weight; it is unreliable for support. It is dangerous for a person to rely upon mere human wisdom or understanding because it is likely to fail him.

Acknowledging the Lord in all our ways means keeping Him in mind in every event of our lives. Godly living is not to be confined to the Sabbath, for God is involved in each moment of each day. His instruction covers our lives from waking up in the morning to going to sleep at night. He wants us to remember Him all the time and to trust and obey Him to guide our conduct in everything we do.

That "He shall direct your paths" suggests that God will "smooth" or "make straight" the road of our lives. This is a promise that God will go before us and remove many of the obstacles from our path. He wants us to be successful, so if we trust Him and follow His instructions, He will lead us forward, sweeping many of our potential problems to the side. How encouraging!

Enjoy Your Youth!

As Solomon begins to wrap up the book of Ecclesiastes, he writes, "Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes, but know that God will judge your motives and actions" (Ecclesiastes 11:9, New English Translation).

God wants young people to enjoy this exciting time of their lives and to be happy. But, being God, He knows that youthful ambitions and energies can get a person into trouble. Such troubles have happened many times to young people in God's church. Thus, with His encouragement He gives a gentle warning: As young people follow their impulses and desires, they need to realize that God will evaluate all they think and do against His teaching.

This applies equally to all of us in all age groups. We must seek joy and happiness within the boundaries of God's moral standards. He promises to bring us into account for all our activities (Romans 2:5-11).

Regarding the young man in the story, he is currently an ordained minister in one of the churches of God. The decision he made not to play ball on the Sabbath was probably the most pivotal decision of his life. And so it will be with any young person when he or she can no longer say, "My parents won't let me."