Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) hosted the Sabbath Rest and Flourishing conference on March 23-24 in partnership with Blessed Earth, an organization dedicated to serving God and caring for his creation.
Matthew Sleeth, executive director of Blessed Earth, was the keynote speaker at the event, which consisted of five learning sessions, musical worship and periodic discussion time.
Sleeth opened his address by giving his testimony. He came to faith in his late 40’s after years of “practicing the American religion, which is to have a good life; be successful; live in a good neighborhood; pay your bills; get more.”
At the Sabbath Rest and Flourishing Conference at SEBTS a discussion was moderated by (from left) Daniel Akin that included Matthew Sleeth, Mark Liederback and Larry Trotter.
Not long after he became a Christian, Sleeth’s family became believers. “My children began to come to church with me to humor me,” Sleeth said. “Eventually all my family became followers of the Lord.”
As he read through the Bible, Sleeth began to see the importance of the Sabbath day, and shortly after that, the Sleeth family began keeping a Sabbath.
Sleeth explained that remembering the Sabbath is not only one of the Ten Commandments, but it is deeply connected to many of the others as well.
When Christians go to church, they are acknowledging God’s lordship and praising his name. When families share a meal and spend time together, they are honoring their father and mother and protecting their marriage against adultery.
“A great thing about Sabbath that can’t be explained but can only be experienced, is that by keeping it the Lord grows stronger in me,” Sleeth said. “That is a great thing.”
Sleeth then touched on the church’s cultural shift away from Sabbath-keeping during his lifetime.
“Somebody wants to take this away from us,” he said. “Somebody wants to take families and naps and marriages that function away, and it’s the devil. That’s what we’re fighting here.”
Participants also watched videos from the 24/6 curriculum developed by Sleeth to encourage Christians to find rest in a 24/7 world.
Daniel Akin, president of SEBTS, moderated a Monday night panel discussion featuring Sleeth, Mark Liederbach, dean of students and professor of theology, ethics and culture at SEBTS and Larry Trotter, pastor of North Wake Church in Wake Forest, N.C.
The participants discussed what Sabbath-keeping means to them, the dangerous ways Christians often think about the Sabbath and whether Sabbath-keeping is a requirement or a recommendation.
“There’s a sense in which it’s the wrong question to ask if a commandment is a requirement or a recommendation,” Liederbach said. “In God’s greatness we should understand that when he gives commands he’s doing it not to keep us from something, but to do something for us, to provide for us, to protect us and to shape our character.”
Trotter emphasized the American church’s tendency to miss the spirit of Sabbath-keeping.
“It’s not like you can take a Sabbath day and then live six like the kingdom of God depends upon you,” Trotter said. “So one of the things we do on Sabbath is to trust God with unfinished work. Then to learn to live a pace of life that is an expression of that trust the other six days.”
Akin built on this idea, drawing from Matthew 11:28 where Jesus calls the weary to rest.
“From beginning to end, the call to follow Christ is a call to rest in Him” Akin said. “To rest in his perfect work; to rest in his power; to rest in his strength; to rest in his forgiveness. We’re going to work hard, but we’re not going to burn out if we’re doing it in his strength.”