By David C. McNair
I’m not sure when the Sabbath ‘hit’ me when I was growing up. It might have been at one of our family lunches at the country club held, of course, at 12 noon on Sunday. After Sunday school and church at our Southern Presbyterian Church we often times drove out for lunch; done so mainly so Dad could get in his rounds with friends. (The Scots invented golf and had public courses that they closed on Sabbath; the English privatized them and called them “country” clubs.)
In Jackson, Miss. the business community began to open up on Sabbath in the 1940s. Blue laws were still in effect, but the theatre owners wanted to show just one movie in the afternoons. ‘No way…’ said the city leaders. The theatre owners pointed to a local college owned by a Christian denomination that had a golf course where people could walk up and for $2 play nine holes; they won.
I studied the commandments, along with a host of other memory work, and the fourth commandment seemed to have special meaning for me. We lived on the farm during the late 1940s when life was quieter and simpler. Only hunting, fishing, card playing, golf, visiting, and horseback riding were allowed on Sabbath. Then into the city, and television, in 1951; the world was changing.
Off to McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn. And did we celebrate Sabbath! Study hall was mandatory on Saturday nights so we would be ready for Sunday school and church. We would go out to McCallie Avenue – in full uniform, of course – and the good people of Chattanooga would stop to take us downtown to the church of our choice. I was taught Bible by Dr. J.P. McCallie, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 1892, and carried real gold to Missionary Ridge when he and his brother started the boys’ school in 1905. The gold was the Bible and an honor system that is a model to this day. At McCallie, we hit the fourth commandment with reality.
Much changed during college years and beyond. My participation in church and a day of rest was resurrected a bit during my stint in the U. S. Army at Ft. Jackson, SC, particularly on a very poignant Easter Sunday 1961. Then, with business opportunities at the newspaper, the St. Louis Cardinals football team, and a start-up television station – all in St. Louis – Sunday became a day of work and productivity.
Back home in Jackson, found me opening restaurants, working many hours and struggling with all the issues that face business owners. Slow growth, financial losses, and the massive flood of 1979, pressures from a franchise contract, and competition put me in a position that found me opening seven days a week, and hating it all the way.
All of a sudden, in 1981, I found myself sitting in church on another meaningful Easter Sunday. I was tall burned-out and realized – as I knew all along – that my business was my witness, just as is anything else given me by God. So, that day, experiencing what I call a new ‘faith experience,’ I pledged to close my restaurant on Sunday allowing employees a day off.
In Israel, Shabbat was a real witness to the pagans; how could this little tribe get it all doe in ix day? When Jesus came he proclaimed that Sabbath was a gift to people, not a burden. Community worship, rest, relaxation, and doing good, all come together in the fourth commandment.
Fitting Sabbath into our lifestyles teaches us two things. First, control of our time; causing us to plan our week (the six days) so that we don’t have to shop, eat out, do all sorts of things on Sundays that we can do during the week. Not legalistically, but simply planning better. Secondly, that relationships, rest, community worship, and acts of mercy are for our benefit. The Lord’s Day – the first day of the week – prepares us for the coming week. Put this command together with tithing and one can dedicate his time, money, and business quite easily to our Lord and Savior.
The fourth commandment is a liberating gift of God, but only when one takes time to observe it and to apply it as a life principle.
David McNair is an entrepreneur, passionate mission volunteer, nonprofit board leader, and churchman in Jackson, Miss. McNair is a longtime member of the Board of Managers of the Lord’s Day Alliance, currently serving as senior vice president of the board.