67: Dr. Matthew Sleeth | 24/7 Er Doc to 24/6 Sabbath Rest

Dr. Matthew Sleeth

A former emergency room physician, Dr. Matthew Sleeth felt like he was straightening deck chairs on the Titanic saving a patient at a time while the whole ship (Earth) was going down.

Together with his wife and two children, he began to bring his lifestyle in line with his values, cutting back on their fossil fuel by two thirds and electricity use by nine tenths.

Following a new calling, Dr. Sleeth resigned from his position as chief of the medical staff and director of the ER to teach, preach, and write about faith and the environment throughout the country.

Dr. Sleeth is a graduate of George Washington University School of Medicine and has two post-doctoral fellowships.

He is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action (Zondervan, April 2007), the introduction to the Green Bible (2008, HarperOne), and 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life.

Dr. Sleeth’s latest book is Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us (April 2019, PenguinRandomHouse).

Dr. Matthew Sleeth and I discuss how his world view shifted from secular, humanist, scientific to a Biblical worldview after he read a Bible from his ER waiting room.  We chat about this shift from being an ER Physician to a Christ-follower who consistently practices Sabbath and cares for the world God created.  Dr. Sleeth talks much about the true rest and joy that comes from Sabbath.

5:40 Take our listeners back to when you were an ER doctor and share what happened that led you to a career and overall life change.

“My worldview, up until that time, was secular humanist scientific. If you couldn’t measure it, if you couldn’t reproduce it, I really didn’t want to talk to you about it. But evil is a spiritual concept. You can’t measure it. Goodness knows you don’t want to try to reproduce it. But if anybody’s seen evil, they know what it is. You can’t explain it away. And so I thought, if there’s this evil force loose on the world, what’s the other side? Where does something good come from? And I had seen good, because being involved in medicine I think is fundamentally good. It’s a wonderful career. I love taking care of sick people. I worked in the emergency department my entire career in medicine. Sometimes I’d kind of step back and we could be having a trauma code or something on somebody that we didn’t even know who it was….I’d look in and they’re just a dozen people throwing everything they had at trying to help and I said, ‘This is good. Something here is fundamentally good’. So I went looking for the source of that good. I read through a number of the world’s sacred texts. I read the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran and my kind of quest, if you will, culminated by picking up a Bible one day. I’d never read it. We didn’t own one. And I actually took the Bible I picked up in a waiting room…. I said, I’ve never read this thing and I’m gonna read it.”

“In the book of Matthew, I met the Lord, I met Christ and it just hit me like a ball-peen hammer in the forehead that this this person was real and different than anybody else that has ever walked the planet. He is so amazingly human and then at the same time, amazingly inhuman. That’s how I met the Lord was in the Bible.”

“If our lives are set, and we’ve got all the knobs tuned where we want, it’s kind of hard for the Lord to break into that. It’s probably more in the times of chaos, that’s when we lean on the Lord that we find out that He’s there.”

“My theology is that Sabbath keeping is not a condition of getting into heaven. It is not fundamental for salvation. So, Sabbath keeping is not a condition of getting into heaven, it’s just a condition that heaven is in if you get there.”

17:17 After reading through the Bible, what did you discover about God’s Words on the Sabbath?

“It’s interesting that in the Old Testament it’s just fundamental. It’s the first law that God makes that He applies to himself. And so God rests and God is holy; therefore, rest is holy. In the entire book of Genesis, the word holy is only used in application to the Sabbath.”

“It’s interesting that we live on this side of the veil. The work has been done. For our salvation, there’s nothing we can do to add to that, or subtract, or anything like that and so we don’t have to keep any of the 613 Old Testament laws. But every time the church has looked at this, the church has come down on, we will keep this law. It did that when it split into the eastern and western church and during the reformation. It was very much reexamined, and one of the main reasons for keeping this if you will, Old Testament law, is that society becomes unbearable without it.”

21:47 How did you implement Sabbath or as you say a “STOP DAY” into your life?  How about your family?

“The most important thing is preparation. If the house isn’t clean, the shopping isn’t done, the clothes aren’t washed, all those things, then you’re gonna feel inclined to do those. So I just thing
Sabbath is about getting prepared, getting ready [to rest].”

“I think it’s for all Christians, Catholics, Protestants, that we should encourage reading so that reading God’s word is not such an onerous task. And so we probably would do more to indulge our children’s reading than anything else. Making sure that they have books that are good…and it’s really nice to have books that you read as a family.”

Narnia Series 

Freckles and A Girl of The Limberlost and Laddie

At the Back of the North Wind

The Secret Keepers

The Benedict Society Series

28:43 The most common thing I hear about intentional Sabbath is I don’t have time to get everything done, so I use the weekends to get stuff done around the house. In your book 24/6, you write, “Rest shows us who God is. He has restraint. Restraint is refraining from doing everything that one has the power to do. We must never mistake God’s restraint for weakness. The opposite is true. God shows restraint; therefore, restraint is holy.”

What have you found to be true personally as you committed to the practice of Sabbath?

“It takes a while to really develop a spiritual discipline like Sabbath. It’s not something that you’re gonna do two or three times and have it down cold. It’s really after a year, you’re going to begin to really notice a difference. And when you get to a point like I am 10 or 15 years down the road, it’s just integral to your life. But at the end of a Sabbath, if you’re doing it right, you’re going to have a sadness that comes over you. It’s that you’re leaving the Sabbath behind, but the beauty of that is you only have to hang in there for six more days.”

32:50 Besides salvation, what is an area or situation in your life where you have experienced or had to cling to God’s grace (unmerited favor)?

34:32 For your great grandchildren listening to this years from now: What wisdom would you like to share with them?

“That is so easy. Stay close to the Bible. Amen. The closer I stay to Scripture, that doesn’t mean I have to read it all, but I’m always chewing on it.”

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