Saturday, July 21, 2007

This Sermon (and Blog) is On Vacation

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm on vacation until August 6, so I won't be posting anything until then. In the meantime, have a look around at some older posts, or check out this sermon about vacations that I preached a couple years ago.

“This Sermon is On Vacation”
July 17, 2005

Today, this sermon is on vacation.

At Wednesday’s Board of Trustees meeting, I told the group that on Sunday the sermon would be about vacations. After hearing this, two members said:
“That sound’s interesting, but I’m sorry, I won’t be at church to hear the message. I’ll be gone on vacation.”
I just got back from vacation recently. In June, my family went to two places. The first was a beautiful ranch in far Northwest Illinois, not far from Wisconsin. For three days, we enjoyed a beautiful apartment, a scenic view down into a lush green valley, a small pond that we canoed in every day, and several ranch animals, including a purple peacock that stood out in front of our apartment and opened his glorious feathers for us to admire.

The second part of our trip was to Cincinnati, Ohio to see my Mom and Dad, along with my sister and her family. We went to the zoo; we went swimming; we ate and visited with extended family. I got to play golf a couple of times with my dad. I caught up with some old friends. Best of all, my wife Melissa and I had an entire day to ourselves. The kids stayed with Grandma and Grandpa and watched Disney movies. We went out on the town and enjoyed a romantic dinner together.

I’m back from vacation and this week I’m going to Camp White to help people have fun on their vacation. I’ll be one of the counselor’s working with a group of developmentally disabled adults. My fingers are going to get raw and sore from playing guitar all week long. I leave today and come back Friday afternoon. It’ll be a lot of work, but it’ll be fun too.

Between coming back from vacation and going to serve people on vacation, I got to thinking:
“Are vacations even spiritual? Do they please God? Or, are vacations simply one more expensive, self-indulgent activity of our western, secular society?”
In the words of Tod Bolsinger, pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church:
“In a world where so many people are confirmed (even proudly so) workaholics, where so many people don’t know how to spend a day off, let alone two weeks, is it possible to recreate in a way that is distinctly Christian?”
Our culture likes to think about rest and recreation first and work second, but as Christians, we need to think first about work and then rest. We see this pattern in the opening chapter of the book of Genesis. There, we see God working, creating creation. And from the Lord’s own example, we see that daily work produces a pace and rhythm in our soul.

Imagine listening to the sputtering of an old tractor. “Putt- putt- putt- pa- putt- putt- putt- pa.” As we hear Genesis and hear God working, we hear a working rhythm.

On days 1-2, there is a single work of creation. On day 3, there are two works of creation. On days 4-5, there again is a single work of creation. Then, on day 6, there again are two works of creation.

1- 2- 3- 3- 4- 5- 6- 6.

Author and pastor Eugene Peterson, in his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, says that:
“The most prominent feature of Genesis is its rhythmic structure…(and when you think about it), we are people immersed in rhythms.”
Sunrise, sunset makes one day. 7 days a week. 4 weeks a month. In a month, the moon circles the earth. In 12 months, the earth circles the sun. Within that year are four seasons that come in predictable, rhythmic pace—summer, fall, winter, and spring.

Physically, we live out rhythms of pulse and breath. Our hearts beat steady. Our lungs expand and contrast. I went jogging yesterday and heard the rhythm of my breath with the rhythm of my steps.

Work has a rhythm of its own too, doesn’t it? We get up at a set time, we do our morning chores, we eat lunch, and we work in the afternoon, until we are done. We eat the evening meal. We relax a little until bed. And we wake up the next day to do the same thing all over again.

We work 5, 6, or 7 days a week, and do it for 50+ weeks a year. I don’t know about you, but after a while, the rhythm and the pace of work wears me out. Right about the time VBS comes around the first week of June, I’m wore out. I’m ready for a break—a change of rhythm—a change of pace.

And that’s what we find in the book of Genesis.

For 6 days, we read that God works, but on the 7th day, the rhythm changes dramatically.

2:2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
For the first 6 days, God works, but on the 7th, he does not—a change of pace. Of interest too is how the author of Genesis mentions the seventh day 3 times. Listen: (read 2:2-3 again). For the other six days, he only says them one time each. But the 7th day, he mentions it 3 times. Again, there’s a change of rhythm, a change of pace.

1- 2- 3- 3- 4- 5- 6- 6- 7- 7- 7.

There’s one other very important detail to consider too about the 7th day. By the end of the 6th day, God has finished His work. So what does God do on the 7th day? Two things. First, God blessed the 7th day and second, He made it holy. In other words, God set this day apart—He purposely made it different.

What is its purpose? It’s for a change of rhythm, a change of pace. It’s for rest. Isn’t it interesting that in the 10 Commandments, the 10 greatest, overarching commands God gives humanity, 1 of those 10 commands says, “Observe the Sabbath.” Take a day for worship and rest because—and the commandment says in Exodus 20—“For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth…but on He rested on the 7th day.”

So let me ask you a question, are you as serious about rest as God is?

In days 1-6, daily work produces a pace and rhythm in our soul. But on day 7, God commands a change of pace. If that’s not a heavenly endorsement for an earthly vacation, I don’t know what is! You need to work, but you also need a time to rest. You need rest because after a while, the rhythm of work grinds on you and your soul. Work without rest wears you out.

Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, makes a keen observation. He says that out of your day, you ought to take a break. Out of your week, you ought take off a day. And out of your year, you ought, at the least, take off a week.

Since this sermon is on vacation, how can you make your vacation more than just a self-centered event, but a Christ honoring event for you and your family--one that refreshes your soul, expands your awareness of creation, and creates lasting memories?

Well, as that immortal movie starring Chevy Chase called Vacation illustrates, it’s not easy. But here are few suggestions I’ve learned from experience.

The first idea concerns money. Manage your money. Don’t let it manage you.

Before you leave for vacation, make a budget. I’ve learned this the hard way. You know, vacation is all about getting away from it all. A change of pace. Well, one of things I wanted to get away from was my bills and my checking account. I’ve got Visa packed me. It doesn’t matter what I might have forgotten. I’m on vacation. And I’m going to spend money!

And then, after I get home, the bill comes. Page after page. Charge and charge. How many of you go on vacation—and then come home to debtors’ prison? Go on vacation, but don’t let the vacation follow you home!

Next time, make a budget. This last trip Melissa and I did something for the very first time in our life. We kept the credit card in our pocket the entire trip. We didn’t use it once. All we used was cash and our debt card. And when we got home, we didn’t have Visa statement waiting for us. That was a good feeling.

Here’s another suggestion about money before you go on vacation. Get your offering to the church. Churches really suffer from the lack of giving during the summer time. Ours is no different. Don’t spend God’s portion of your money on yourself. It belongs to Him. So before you go, give your gift, or send it to the church.

Here’s a third suggestion about money. This one will save you some vacation cash. I read this in a magazine. Think about what you want to do, rather than where you want to go. For example, if you want to go to Disney World to ride rides and see shows, you can probably do that dollar for dollar cheaper by going to Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO.

A final thought about money. If you’re just plain broke and can’t go anywhere, come talk to me. We have local camps in this area. I’ll get you in one of them. You too need a change of pace—and can get it.

This is my second big suggestion. Pace yourself. You’re going on vacation for a change of pace. But don’t over do it. Don’t cram so much activity you’re your schedule that you come home exhausted. How many of us have come home from vacation—and then needed a vacation from the vacation? Cross some things off from your list. Decide what you can and can’t do.

A third big suggestion is this—relax and expect problems. Melissa can tell you how much I love leaving several hours late for vacation (groan). One summer vacation we were going to Colorado. And we agreed, “Let’s get up at 4:00am, we’ll be out by 6:00pm and we’ll be in Denver by 2:00-3:00pm.”

Amazingly, we did get up at 4:00am. We were awakened not by our alarm clock, but the town siren— along with a torrential rain and booming thunder. We ran down to the basement— thinking there was tornado. And as we were down there, I (groan) said to Melissa, “You know, if we left now, we would just be driving in a massive storm from here to the Colorado border. Let’s just go back to bed.”

I don’t have the biblical gift of prophecy, but I can assuredly tell you this: Your vacation will not go as planned! So expect problems—work around them and just relax.

My final suggestion for a good vacation is this: Bring along you Bible and if it’s Sunday, go attend a church worship service.

When we were in Cincinnati, we went to two different churches—the Lutheran Church I grew up in, which my parents are still active members, and also to a nearby church that offers a sharp contemporary worship service. Each service was enjoyable, in part, because it was different than our worship here.

When you visit a new church, you get to see how others worship. You get to experience a different part of the body of Christ. You see that God's kingdom is big and diverse. And you never know-- you might also get some ideas about how our own worship service can be improved.

You can go to church. And in many places, the church is going to your vacation spot. An article in the July 9th Hutchinson News describes how many churches and denominations are holding services at camp grounds, beaches, and resorts. Churches are doing this because when we go on vacation, we’re open to new ideas. We’re looking for rest.

Pastor Tod Bolinger confesses that for him, it’s easier to spend time outdoors with nature than to sit in a chair and read the Scriptures. Nature is so inspirational and the Bible is…well, just a book.

And yet, as Bolinger writes on his blog:
“Mountains are beautiful but they don’t teach me how to live my life. A geyser is breathtaking but won’t help me keep my promises. A shooting star can stir my soul but not transform it. A dolphin has never offered me wisdom…That’s why experiences, even spiritual experiences are insufficient by themselves. Inspiration is not enough. Creation is not enough. I need revelation. I need guidance from God, a light for my steps.”
He goes on to say:
“If you are a person who finds it so easy to connect to God in nature, then take this one small step: respond to that inspiration by being faithful in Sunday worship. Let the inspiration "out there" lead you to be more regular in church. When creation inspires us, let’s respond with giving worship to the Creator and opening our souls to His instruction.”

“Never forget that Psalm 119, Psalm 19, and all the Psalms were songs of worship. They are hymns that were sung, poems that were read, prayers that were offered. People who had seen the beauty of the earth, the glory of the skies didn’t just climb a mountain peak and stay there. They didn’t just swim in the seas or meander through a meadow. When the beauty of creation moved them, they brought those experiences with them back to their community that gathered to worship God. The inspiration of creation led them to give praise and thanks to the Creator in the community (of worship).”

“Worship joins awe and instruction. Worship teaches us to respond to inspiration with dedication. Worship connects our personal experience to a faithful community…Let the wonder of creation lead you to the Word of Revelation.”
Which leads to the second point of this last suggestion: Bring along your Bible and read it—outside.

Bolinger contends:
"This is not a gimmick. It’s a deeply biblical way of cultivating a deeper spiritual life. In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas reminds us that the Bible is meant to be read outside (p. 37).”

“The people of the scriptures were inspired by rushing rivers and green meadows as they described life with God. When the psalmists look to the mountains for their help, they were probably looking at actual mountains. When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, he was not standing on a carpeted chancel. When he spoke of lilies of the field and fig trees and the birds of the air, its safe to presume that he actually pointed at those things and didn’t use a picture on a PowerPoint screen.”
In days 1-6, daily work produces a pace and rhythm in our soul.

But on day 7, God commands a change of pace.

You need to work, but you also need to rest.

That’s why this sermon was on vacation.

Have a nice trip.

1 comment:

littleriverlon said...

Hope you are enjoying your vacation. Haven't responded to any posts lately as my account was messed up.
Some good thoughts on vacation. Wish I had read them before we went to Branson. It was a great time though. I highly recommend it. Besides, we are right on the way.
I start back to full days tomorrow. Pace and rhythm to begin. I don't feel I had a summer this year. I had two weeks off in late June into early July. I then worked 5 hours a day for summer school. I got 4 days off last week and start tomorrow preparing for the coming year.
Have a safe journey home and God Bless.