Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Stop Day


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 07/14/2013
video available July 1st
podcast here:
or via iTunes here:


It's Not About the Nail from Jason Headley on Vimeo.

This is how we relate to busyness, sometimes. We talk about how much it’s killing us, we sympathize with each other. But we never try to actually do anything about the nail of busyness sticking out of our foreheads.


In the last 20 years, work time has gone up 15%, leisure time down 33%. By comparison, during the middle ages people had an average of 115 days off a year, plus Sundays. [family vacation experience…] Rob Bell says Busy is a drug a lot of people are addicted to.


How many of you are happy about how busy you are? I didn’t think so.


Ashleigh Brilliant said: “Sometimes the most urgent and vital thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest.”

How many of us say, “Man, yes, that’s exactly what I need. And fat chance it will ever happen.”

Taking a complete rest isn’t easy. Unfortunately, for many of us, it’s harder than not resting, isn’t it? Which is maybe why so few of us actually do rest.


Benjamin Franklin commented about the challenge of resting this way: “He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.”

Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room doctor who downsized his big busy life and his big busy home and wrote the book Serve God, Save the Planet, says, “God didn’t intend our lives to be run on sentences.”


Run on sentences. That’s a great description, isn’t it?

I mean, really, don’t you find it a bit tiresome to find yourself faced with a sentence that is this long or longer and there’s no stopping point in sight but you push on because you know it has to end eventually and once you get to the end

you’ll finally have a break and be able to sit back and absorb everything you’ve just read so long as you’re not completely and utterly exhausted in which case you’ll lose everything you just read and probably go back to read it again in hopes of being able to get it the second time, but really, there’s no use.

Like we can’t get a breath; we just keep on keeping on until we can’t breathe anymore.

One compelling argument for why this is the case is that we have a culture of scarcity. We aren’t convinced that there is enough, or that we have enough, that we have to keep striving to get enough, that if we stop, we won’t have enough.

Contrast that to the experience of David, the youngest son of Jesse.


“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.”

Wouldn’t that be a great way to experience life? [Sadly, most of us associate that psalm with death – as if death is our only hope of rest!]

So what can we do about it? Summer seems as good a time as any to see if God has any help for us, any hope of freeing us from the tyranny of go-go-go, of chronic busyness.


Today we’re going to be talking about the Sabbath, or Stop Day, if you prefer.

The practice of the stop day, the Sabbath, is a spiritual discipline designed to help us learn to live in the freedom God created us for. At its core, it’s pretty simple really. Stopping your work for one day a week. One day out of 7 in which you don’t work. In practice, of course, it can get a bit more complicated – what is work? and what isn’t work? and what if you don’t control your work schedule? and what do you do if you’re not working? and what if your work is the kind of work that never really stops? (Like parenting or managing a household, for example?)

And like any other spiritual discipline, it may be a worthwhile activity all by itself, but the real power for transformation comes from the God whose grace becomes available to us within the context of the discipline, and whose grace remains with us beyond the discipline.

A word of introduction for people new to the Bible and the concept of the “Sabbath”. Meaning to rest from labor. When God created the world, Genesis says:


By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work (שׁבַת shabath). And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work (שׁבַת shabath) of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:2

Later, God gave a command to the people of Israel through Moses, instituting a practice that Israel was already observing to some degree. The fourth of the famous ten commandments:


Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11


Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5

Observation of the Sabbath was central to the worship of Israel. Established as a day of rejoicing, feasting, family, praise. It was understood to be the Lord’s day. A day on which the people of Israel made themselves available to God for his good pleasure, and a day on which his good pleasure was poured out on his people. He had given the Sabbath as a gift to Israel – something designed for their benefit. A little like the extravagant kind of gift lovers give to one another. Costly? Yes. Perhaps even outrageously so. Practical? Not at face value; no, not at all. But deeply nourishing in the way no practical gift could ever match. [study on what kind of gift has greatest potential to secure a mate – costly, and impractical]


Sabbath part of what set them apart as God’s chosen people. 7 disciplines of beloved community: tithe, sacred meal, sacred journey, Sabbath, fasting, fixed hour prayer, hospitality.


The Sabbath is a way of participating in the eternity of God. It looks both backward and forwards in time. Back to the powerful actions of God to create the world and save his people from slavery. And forward to the eternal rest God will enjoy with his people when his kingdom comes in its fullness. At the same time, the Sabbath has the impact of arresting time itself. A day in which God is God over time. When his people could stop being slaves to the clock and instead be free to enjoy their God and each other.


The discipline of the Sabbath is a way of reminding yourself (note the command says remember the Sabbath) that God has made you free. Free from bondage to anything or anyone else. You are rescued, and you are his. He, the mighty one, more mighty than any Pharaoh, the one who created the universe, has set you free, and it is for freedom that you have been set free. He will provide for you, care for you, lead you, give you life.

The Stop Day discipline is a way of saying No! to everything that exerts an unholy claim on you and your time. Work is holy and a gift, yes, part of what it means to be made in the image of a creative God, but it can also become an expression of the curse of sin, something that takes life from us, rather than giving life to us. Without a stop day you can come to depend on work for security, for provision, for wholeness, for reward, and then it has become a god. And then it will begin to make unholy demands on you and your time and your energies that only the living God has the right to make, the kind of demands that lead to death.

The Sabbath is God-ordained rest from work. It puts work in perspective, God in perspective, us in perspective. In saying No! to the things that can exert unholy claims on us, the Stop Day becomes a way of saying Yes! to God, a way of actively trusting him, looking to him for security, for provision, for wholeness, for reward, for life. We are reminded of work as a gift, we are reminded that everything ultimately comes from God, not from our work, and so we are reminded that all that we have is gift, and we are reminded of God’s love, and we are reminded that we are his beloved children, and that life itself is a gift.

When Israel grew distant from God, it was the observation of the Sabbath that it let go of first. And when Stop days stopped, they lost their understanding of their mission, and who God was to them, and who they were to God. And when God called people back to himself, it was a return to the Sabbath, to a simple day of rest from work in honor of God, to which he summoned them first. (see Isaiah 56)

Blessing and benefits of the Sabbath to be experienced in the whole of life: God honored, his pleasure experienced, holiness evident to all, God in control in all actions, our very selves in a posture of rest, God’s provision available at all times, refraining from demands on others at all times. A continuing experience of the life to come in our lives now.


Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light…for the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath.


How can we enter more deeply into that kind of rest? By practicing Sabbath, regularly resting from our labors, with the kind of freedom Jesus teaches us to exercise. By practicing Sabbath, we train our selves to have an ongoing experience of Sabbath rest through the Holy Spirit. God-given rest becomes second nature, in other words, for selves that are trained to honor God, give control to him, depend on him, receive his provisions, rest in him, refrain from demands on others. [competency continuum: unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent, unconsciously competent]

Practically speaking, how do we practice a Stop Day?


Step 1: Stop. Imagine that your life is a headlong rush (and I don’t think it will stretch our imaginations too much) – to achieve, to survive, to provide, to accomplish, to keep up, to stay afloat, whatever the case may be for you - and imagine that your feet slowing up and stopping. You’re still breathing, blood is still pumping, brain waves still waving, but you’re standing still, or at the very least walking, maybe panting a little. Now take that image and translate it into concrete stopping actions. That’s the discipline of the Sabbath.

Every time we stop, God is left in control.

The main problem with our selves is that they want to take control. We will always be crippled in our ability to work in creative, trusting cooperation with God, until we can learn to stop, to rest. If we don’t learn to rest, we will certainly succumb to the temptation to work for our own ends, on our own projects, by our own means.

Stopping restricts the control that we exercise. Who’s making sure we get food, shelter, success, satisfaction, etc. when we’re at rest? God alone. Our instinct for prayer before sleep is telling. [survey prayer patterns…] Rest, is in fact, a way of trusting God with our lives.


Stopping is a form of surrender. All of creation, it seems, is filled with rhythms, cycles of work and rest, work and rest. Sunrise, sunset. New moon, full moon. High tide, low tide. Wake, sleep. Winter, spring, summer, fall. The practice of letting fields lie fallow. Workout / Exercise schedules. All of these and more are signs that God is in control of everything, not us. That our attempts to exert control will surely fail. That if we seek to join with God’s activity in the world, we must first hear the rhythms he has put in place, and surrender to them. Then the dance can truly begin.

The specifics of how this discipline looks and works in your life – what stopping means for you and how you go about it – will probably be different for every single one of us. Part of the deal with spiritual disciplines is that they are to function under the leadership of Jesus through his Holy Spirit in our lives. Because he is the author and perfecter of our faith. Not your pastor or mentor or small group leader or spiritual director.

Nonetheless, some suggestions…

If you are an employee, as much as possible, don’t do the things you are employed to do. If you are self-employed, don’t do the things you do to make your business successful. Don’t answer your blackberry. Let everything go to voicemail first. Don’t check your work related email, voicemail, mail, etc. Have someone else check your other voicemails and tell you if they’re non-demanding.

If you attend primarily to children and a home…good luck!

Change pace.

No cleaning. No laundry. No vacuuming.

Cooking ahead. Or having a simple meal, leftovers maybe. Or arranging to join together with others. Or ordering out. Or eating out.

Postpone discussions/arguments.

Get help with time away from kids, home.

The long and the short of it is that there be some time with an invisible circle around it, into which some things (good things, in and of themselves) are intentionally excluded because God has set us free from any other master.


Now, step 2: Breathe. While you’re stopped, do some deep breathing.

Usually that involves what we’d call re-creation activities. Reading a book. Playing a game. Praying. Taking a walk. Taking a nap. Sharing a meal with loved ones. Spending time with your family. Knitting. Listening to music. Playing guitar. Or guitar hero. For me, it often includes playing basketball and video games. For many, Sunday is a their stop day, so going to church and worshipping and connecting with brothers and sisters and going out for lunch is part of it. For some, it’s some kind of service to others that nourishes their soul, like hanging out with a young person in youth ministry, or serving the poor.

We weave Sabbath into our week and our year. Mondays are my day off. I don’t do any church-related work at all, don’t check voicemail, don’t answer the phone, usually don’t even go into town where I might run into somebody from church. Tuesday nights, Ronni and I or both of us and the kids do something together. We call it date night; when it’s all of us, it’s family date night. Each year, we take some extended vacation in the summer. It’s like a series of Mondays strung together. No voicemail, no email, no conversations about the church or work related things. We leave the church in Jesus’ hands. It’s his, after all, isn’t it…?

The point is that this is a spiritual discipline, or a tool, part of how we cooperate with the grace of God in our lives for the sake of the transformation he intends to do in us and through us. And it likely won’t be easy or feel natural at first. (probably why God’s punishments for breaking the Sabbath were so severe). Push through. It’s a discipline of trust, after all. Don’t give up. It’s not about getting it just right, it’s about getting into it, and seeing where Jesus wants to take us.

Kind of like giving to the church. 10%!?? Wow! How am I ever going to do that? So you start with 2% or 5%, and you pray for the Lord to help you grow in your giving to 10%, or even more. So with the Sabbath. Maybe you start with 4 hours once a week. And you pray for the Lord to show you how or open the door to do more, until you’ve got a full stop day, a weekly Sabbath built into the rhythm of your life with God. And then you learn to do Sabbath better and better, and then Sabbath rest begins to leak into even the work you do, and the freedom of life in the kingdom begins to multiply and take over your life, and then it’s not you who’s living anymore, but Christ in you, the hope of glory!