Sunday, July 30, 2017

Vacation - Everyone Needs Some Time Away

As a product of the 1980’s I could not do a series titled vacation and not include this...  VACATION
I never thought I would ever use an early music video of the go-go’s in a sermon, but there you have it.  Vacation, all I ever wanted, Vacation had to get away, Vacation, meant to be spent alone.  Vacations are great and summer vacations are what many people live their lives for.  Whether it is hitting the water at the beach, lake or amusement park or camping and hiking in our national parks or visiting family in cities and towns across the country –people love vacations.  Well, most people love vacations.  We love to get away and be with family and friends and we love to get a break from work and be able to see and experience many different parts of our community, state, country and world.

Vacations in the United States are really a product of the 19th century when people started to understand the benefits of taking a break from work.  Up until then, people just worked and worked hard.  Our nation’s work ethic was so strong that to take time off was seen as lazy and unproductive and so good hard working people just didn’t take vacations.  People might take Sundays off to rest, but people didn’t start taking week long vacations until doctors and then ministers started telling people about the benefits of rest and relaxation.

As I was reading about the history of vacations in the US I learned that the UMC actually played a part in the rise of vacations.  According to Cindy Adams, who wrote Working at Play, when the growing middle class started to have enough disposable income to take vacations and the idea of vacations became acceptable, people looked at Methodist campgrounds in places like Martha’s Vineyard and the Delaware Shore as places to go.  These locations gave people an opportunity to rest and relax and the sea air was thought to be good for people.

These church campgrounds not only provided people with food and lodging, but they gave them spiritual offerings as well.  People could spend listening to sermons and taking part in bible studies which helped make these new vacations more acceptable.  Many of these places were also at the end of RR lines which meant people could get their easily.  So what started as church campgrounds have today become resorts and destinations.  So if you are headed off on vacation this month, thank the UMC for their part in the development of vacations.

For the next few weeks, we are going to learn some faith lessons from vacations.  These won’t just be lessons for us while on vacation, these will be lessons we can apply all year long and the first lesson is simple – everyone needs some time away.  Everyone needs some time off and everyone needs a vacation.  Now let me clearly say, not everyone needs a trip to the beach or mountains for a week and not everyone needs to visit Disneyworld or New York City – but everyone needs some time away from work because God created us to need times of rest.

In the created order God put in times of rest.  On the very first day, God did not just create the sun and call it day but he also created what we call the night and for most people that is a time of rest.  Now I know there are nocturnal animals and people who do all their best work at night but looking at the big picture, God created the day for work and the night for rest.  So night time is part of creation because periods of rest are needed.

To reinforce this idea, God said creation wasn’t complete until there was a full day of rest – the Sabbath.  Genesis 2:2 
God then told us to take a day each week to rest and reflect and remember him.  Leviticus 23:3

So rest is an important part of the created order and our lives.  We were not created to work all day - every day.  We need regular times of rest each week where we are able to stop our work and not only physically rest but emotionally take a break and spiritual recenter our hearts and lives on God.  Regular days of Sabbath rest are vital to our well-being each day and week but seasons of rest are also important.

Fall and winter are often the seasons of rest for the plants and even the earth.  And the bible says we should allow the ground to lay fallow – or not be planted – every 7 years to allow it to rest.  Farmers today will often rotate crops and allow plots of land to rest in order to get a greater harvest in other seasons.  All of this shows us the importance of not just times of rest each day and week but an extended season of rest so we can be at our best.  The lesson here is that everyone and all of creation needs some time away.

While we don’t find people in the bible taking vacations like we think of them, every year people would stop their work, leave their homes and gather together for feasts and festivals like the Passover.  Not only where these times away but there would often be good food and times of worship with family and friends.  We will look at this more in a few weeks, but for now we can see that God does support this idea of vacations.  We also see in the bible examples of people intentionally getting away from the stress in their lives in order to be refreshed for greater work to come.

In the Old Testament we see this in the prophet Elijah.  Elijah had just challenged and defeated 400 prophets of the false god Baal.  He challenged them to call down fire on a sacrifice and after spending most of the day calling and begging and pleading for Baal to come and set fire to their sacrifice, the false prophets called it quits.  Elijah then stepped up and asked God to consume his sacrifice and he did.   

After this amazing display of God’s power, Elijah had to face death threats from King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  If anyone needed some time away – it was Elijah and so he ran.  He literally ran away.  Now I am not going to say that this was a well-planned vacation to a nice resort, but Elijah did understand that he needed some time away – so he went.  Elijah ran a day’s journey into the wilderness and then fell exhausted under a tree to sleep.  During the night an angel came and gave him food so Elijah ate and then he slept some more.  A second time an angel came and gave Elijah more food and he ate and then had the strength to get up and keep going and so Elijah went into a cave to spend the night.  While Elijah was in the cave he had a vision of God and then heard God tell him to go back to work.  1 Kings 19:3-8.

So let’s review what just happened.  Elijah left his home, he got lots of sleep, ate some really good food, had a powerful experience of God’s presence and then went back to work.  I know this might be a stretch – but doesn’t that sound a little bit like a vacation?  Elijah needed some time away so he took a journey, got a lot of sleep, ate some literally divine food, had an experience of seeing and hearing God that refreshed and strengthened so he could return home and get back to work.  That is what vacations should be about.  We get away.  We get some rest.  We eat some good food.  We take some time to reflect on God and open ourselves up to seeing and hearing God and then we head back to work.

Elijah was tired and burned out and needed rest and food and encouragement.  Elijah needed to get away from the routine and stress of his life so he could get a good perspective on all that was going on around him and in him.  Can you relate?  This is how most of us feel when we are ready for a vacation.  We just need that time away from the routine of our lives so we can rest physically and emotionally and there are times when we need a change of scenery or activity so we can hear and see God in fresh ways and regain a good and godly perspective on life.  While Elijah wanted to run away forever, God shows us that a true vacation isn’t running from our problems but getting away long enough so we can rest and get refreshed in order to face our problems again but this time with strength and power and purpose.

Jesus also never took a vacation the way we think about them, but he did understand the importance of time away.  At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was overwhelmed by entire communities of people coming to him for help and healing.  The stress and strain was great and so early in the morning Jesus sought some time away.  Mark 1:35-37

What it important for us to notice here is that this is the very beginning of Jesus public ministry and so he doesn’t wait until he is exhausted and burned out and ready to quit before he takes some time off, he builds times of rest into his life.  If Jesus needed regular time away to get some rest and refreshment in order to keep his perspective and strength, then how much more do we need this?

I know that many people think that they can work every day and never take a day off or time off, I was one of them.  My first year in ministry I didn’t take a regular day off.  I would maybe take some time here or there, but I never took a regular day off and in 10 months I was exhausted and burned out.  Fortunately, the church leaders told me to take a vacation and they told me take a couple of weeks to really get refreshed.  I did and it was the best thing I could have done because in the months after I returned we faced some critical decisions and turning points as a church and I know if I had not been refreshed after some time away, I would have been no good to the church and we would not have been able to do all that God wanted us to do.  When I returned that year I also made sure that I started taking regular days off to stay refreshed and strong.

This was not the only time we hear about Jesus getting away.  Later on in Mark’s gospel we find Jesus trying to take his disciples away for a period of rest and reflection after they have had a particular busy and stressful period.  Mark 6:7-13.  Jesus sent them out to teach and preach and drive out demons and let’s face it, they were beginners and so struggled at this and so this had to have been a stressful time for them.  When they returned, Jesus tried to get them away on a vacation.  Mark 6:30-31.  They didn’t get far before the crowds found them, but again Jesus shows us the importance of time away.

God’s ordering of creation, Elijah’s time of rest and Jesus time away and then trying to get away with the disciples tells us that vacations are important and that we all need some time away.  We need regular daily and weekly times of rest and we need seasonal times of refreshment but let’s be clear about what makes for a good vacation.  A good vacation is not a time to run away from responsibilities but a time to find some real rest.  A good vacation is not a time to neglect God and times of worship and learning but a time of refreshment with God.   We need to carve out time to be with God and look for his presence and listen for his voice.  A good vacation should also have a purpose and this is not our itinerary but thoughtful ways to fill our life back up so we can return to the work and mission God has for us.  This can all happen at Disneyworld or up the road at the Dam.  This can happen at the beach or in our backyard.  This can happen with a full schedule of activities or quiet days of doing nothing.  The key is to have a sense of purpose and invite God to be part of our time away.

Whether it is a day or weekend or week – plan some time away with a purpose.  This month, do something fun and uplifting, spend time with family and friends and include God in all you do.

Next Steps
Vacation – Everyone needs some time away

1. What was the best vacation you ever had?  What made it so good?

2. Where do you prefer to go on vacation?
Why are those places so special to you?
What might God be saying to you in these places?

3. Read the story of Elijah’s “vacation” in 1 Kings 18-19.
Why did Elijah need some time away?
What did God provide for him?
How did this prepare him for what was to come?
What do we learn here about good vacations?

4. Read the story of Jesus’ “time away” in Mark 1:18-45.
Why did Jesus need time away?
How did this time prepare Jesus for what was to come?

5. How can you make your next vacation a time of rest, reflection and refreshment?  How can you make sure God is part of your vacation experience?

6. Weekly times of rest and refreshment are needed.  How do your days off become a real time of rest for you and your family?  How can you make it more of a blessing to you and others?