Yesterday as I sat in Sunday School my iPad sounded an alert that drew my immediate attention. As I looked down the flashing notification read these words “Joe Paterno Dead at 85”. The news was not stunning, nor was it especially personal, and yet it was a reminder of the testimony we craft with our time.
Paterno’s legacy at Penn State and in NCAA football will no doubt for a indefinate amount of time testify to football greatness. With all kinds of physical records set, championships, and even the intangible effect of his positive influence on generations young men whom he coached Paterno’s legacy is assured. The time and effort he gave the people of Happy Valley testifies to some core values of loyalty, tenacity, and victory.
Even so, can anyone forget the events of the past few months? The legacy crafted through years of hard work must be measured amid a fellow coach’s sexual assault scandal and Paterno’s own dismissal due to a lack of action. The New York Times today offers this quote from Paterno in an article by Pete Thamel today, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more”. In this last chapter of his life Paterno has testified, as Thamel rightly calls it, to a tragic weakness in the way he handled himself in this instance.
Can any of us avoid a similar tragic weakness in the way our time testifies to our priorities? Examine with me a passage to which you may not often turn in Exodus 31:12-17. In this passage the Lord tells Moses to command that the people of Israel observe a Sabbath. Seeing this as an Old Testament passage than no longer applies, many may pass right by this text thinking that it has not importance for a New Testament believer. Whoa! Don’t just pass by this passage without seeing at least three principles on how our time testifies to the state of our heart.
Verse 13 states that the Israelites who made time to observe the Sabbath were reminded that it was the Lord who sanctified them. As men and women in a fallen world we constantly need to be reminded that our works do not save us, nor do they make us more holy. Our works flow out of transformed life which begins not by our works, but when the Lord Jesus calls us to surrender to him the leadership of our life. Inwardly, at that point He begins renewing by his Word, our desires are transformed by his truth, and our attitudes are reformed as we turn from our self gratifying ways to follow him (Romans 12:1-2). The Christian never has to say “I wish I had done more”, but rather “In spite of all I’ve done, have you seen what the Lord is doing in me?”
Verses 14-15 indicate that to profane the Sabbath provided the Israelites with a damning testimony to the person’s disconnection from God’s people. Hindsight is not necessary for us to realize that it is profane or unacceptable to disassociate from that which is right in order to associate with that which is known to be wrong. For Paterno to keep this assistant coach on his staff regardless of whether the university wanted to act was to be culpable. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says to “abstain from every form of evil” or “all appearance of evil” in the King James Bible. Even so Exodus 31:14-15 are clear that merely disassociating from that which is right is enough to give testimony to your severed relationship to God and his people. To consistently miss the gathering together of God’s people due to work obligations, lazy Sunday mornings, vacations or just not wanting to see people; they all display an unwillingness to place a priority on that which pleases the Lord (John 13:35).
Finally verses 16-17 point out that the Israelites who observed the Sabbath testified to the rest and refreshment that comes from time spent with the Lord. God himself rested on the seventh day and enjoyed all of his handiwork as well as divinely perfect fellowship within the Trinity. For all those who fight to devote their time to enjoying God and glorifying him, they testify that rest is in the Lord alone. It is for this reason that I believe the command to observe the Sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament. While God makes it clear that we should spend time in His Word which sanctifies us (John 17:17; Romans 10:14-17) and time assembled with other believers in order to testify to our love for him (Hebrews 10:25); each and every moment for a Christians is a Sabbath rest. The Christian life is spent testifying to our rest in the finished work of the Lord Jesus. In other words there is no tragedy or need for hindsight in the life of a believer since our legacy does not rest upon our works but upon the finished work of Christ.
Therefore, let me encourage you to avoid the tragedy of a tarnished legacy. Look at the time that you are spending and to what that time testifies. For each activity and each moment…
- Ask first, in this moment can I testify to what the Lord has done in me? If not, then do not allow circumstances to affect your worship. Look to renew your thinking, transform your understanding, and adjust your attitude by reading God’s Word.
- Next ask if this activity cuts my fellowship from the Lord or his people. If it does, then abstain from anything that is evil. Amid those things that are not evil, but cut fellowship nonetheless, begin placing a priority on that which pleases the Lord in such a way that you fight to please Him rather than people (Acts 4:19).
- Third, ask if this observance testifies to our rest in Christ’s finished work. If not, then begin rejoicing and giving thanks as to how Christ has led you to this point and will lead you to eternal refreshment in Him (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).