Lessons for Late Summer Sundays "Facing the First Day Back"

Everybody has them. Those first days back. From vacation, from the weekend. From some day you've been looking forward to that's now at its end…. The visit with family, the birthday, the night on the town. Now it's time to get back to "the real world." And we all know how we just look forward to it! Beverly and I got back late Monday from two weeks at Chautauqua. We rested. We played. I got a lot of planning work done. We ate ice cream! Oh, I can't tell ya how much I looked forward to Tuesday morning. 200 emails. An entire 3 x 2' tray of mail, cascading over the top and down the sides. The four families in crisis to be seen. The tragic loss at the local fire company. Everybody's first day back looks a little different, but we all have them. And our feelings in dealing with them are very much the same. In fact, they are a spiritual challenge! But then, they always have been! 'Think you face tough days, your first days back? Consider Moses down from the mountain and that whole Golden Idol mess. Or Jesus back from the wilderness with his cousin to grieve and disciples to gather. 'Kinda puts emails, memos, meetings, and laundry-to-do, in perspective.

Scripture teaches us there are at least three keys to that first day back. First, take the-God-you-met-while-you-were-apart back with you. Second, fulfill the calling that called you back to this place. (Be clear about it, and faithful to it.) Third, remember this too is God's place, God's time, and God's desire for your life today. That ole devil may still be lurking where you left him. Or he may be layin' for ya in some new place. But God's still got angels to minister to you. So watch for them, just like Jesus.

Whether your first day back is ahead of you, or just behind, take the-God-you-met back with you to your everyday life. Moses sure did. Jesus too. Just do that one thing, that one devotion. It'll make all the difference. Moses had had a time. He'd brought out the people from Egypt. 'Led them through the wilderness to Sinai. 'Seen and done miracles. Listened and listened (6 chapters worth), receiving and delivering God's laws and ordinances. Whew! Maybe McDonalds wasn't the first to sing, "You deserve a break today, so get up and get away…." So God called Moses up to Sinai. And nurtured and nourished and refreshed him in the Spirit. And gave him the gift of the Tablets. Then God sent him down the hill for his first day back. Talk about fortified in the Spirit! And oh how he'd need it! He came back to a people gone haywire before the Lord. 'Makin' that silly idol, as though it could be their god! Moses broke the tablets that day. 'Threw them down, cast them off. But he held tight, oh so tight, to the God-he'd-been-with on the mountain. Now Jesus, Jesus knew about this. After all, he too had time apart with God. The wilderness. The testing. The struggle. You heard the story just minutes ago. It ends with the triumph of faith over the trials of the devil. What an exultant morning. Matthew doesn't say, but I've always pictured Jesus, at once spent by it all… and nestled in a sweet deep sleep. Sleep like the one you get-up-from on the last morning of vacation or a glorious spiritual retreat. And that's when the angels come… to gird him up, us too, for the way back to the world. Be assured, Jesus will not let go of this wonderful God he's encountered. Never, through the last word from the cross. That's how you make it, on that first day back. You hold on to the One you found when you drew apart, went up high, and caught a vision of the God who made you, loves you, guides you day by day.

Of course, our vacations aren't the equal of Sinai or the wilderness adventure above the Jordan. Our weekends and special days either. But they are our best chance for renewal. And God can use them, if we help him, to give us the kind of strengthening and guiding that can see us through. There are really two little lessons here. One is to build time into our times apart to renew our spirits. Family time, fun, rest, all help. Adventure helps. Trying on new life experiences (like trying on new clothes at the store). Seeing ourselves in new ways. But best of all is setting aside time to be alone… with God in Christ. A walk. Early morning on the beach or in the woods. Bible time. Prayer time. Whatever works for you. And not just on vacation. Every weekend offers the same chance before that first day back, come Monday. Worship is a weekly moment for encounter with the Lord. First days back don't have to feel empty if we've used our time apart to be filled with the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ… and then take it with us. That's the other lesson here. To take with us what we received while apart, instead of leaving it behind. Nothing helps more on that first day back than to know we're not going alone. God in Christ goes with us.

There's more. Let's identify and fulfill the calling that called us back to our everyday lives. I think the hardest part of lots of Mondays and other first days back is confronting the question, "Why". Why am I doing this? What's the point of the grind? If I weren't doing this would anybody know, would anybody care? Ole Moses may have thrown down the tablets when he saw that Golden Idol. Maybe he felt, "What's the use?" Maybe it was anger. Righteous indignation. Or theater to make a point. But what got him through that first day back and all the days that followed was his clear sense of calling to let God's people go… into the land and the life they were promised. What got Jesus through word of his beloved cousin John the Baptist's arrest? He knew it signaled the time for him to truly be about his Father's business. He navigated the calling of the twelve by never losing sight of his own calling, the Way to the Cross. Jesus and Moses alike illustrate for us a great truth. We find our way how to do by knowing why we do: because we are called to do.

What's your calling? Whatever it is, it's your reason for returning Monday after Sunday, first day back after vacation, the hour after break, the morning after evening rest. It can seem highbrow, or not so, but sacred, that's the key understanding. My dad sold paint. At about 16 or 17, considering medicine or ministry myself, I was not impressed, I'm now embarrassed to admit. Dad put me in my place about it when he said to me, "I grew up in the depression. Colorless, peeling, falling apart and drab was how the world looked. And felt. I didn't set out to sell paint. But I've figured out it's a pretty good thing to color this world. Afterall, God didn't make it gray; he colored every corner of it. And he lighted it with sun to make it shine!" It's what made answering complaints and countless hours on the road worth it for him, as well as returning home to color our world with his person and his stories. Jim Pike got the cool, damp, basement office at the seminary. 'Not very kind to a Chinese missionary's kid with badly arthritic knees, trying to teach us lunkhead 20-somethings the importance of world mission. "Why endure it?" I was insensitive enough to ask. "Because every Monday I remind myself that somewhere out there's a soul that will not hear of Jesus if I don't. They nailed him up for us and cast lots for his robe. A little pain in the legs and a lap robe seems a minor inconvenience by comparison, don't you think?" From the salesman's steering wheel to the teacher's wheelchair, there's a calling waiting for us all, that first day back. Identify it, claim it, fulfill it… that's the way to come on back and keep on going. Moses to Jesus, the Bible says, "Amen." So… what's your calling? Explore it today, you're gonna need it tomorrow, as surely as it needs you.

Remember this is God's place, time, and desire for your life today. 'Come first day back, that ole devil may still be lurking where you left him. Or he may be layin' for ya in some new place. But God's still got angels to minister to you. So watch for them, just like Jesus. Heavenly. That's how we think of the places where we draw apart. That's pretty easy. The tough part's thinking the same of the laundry room where the underwear and dirty bathing suits are waiting to be washed. Or the government office where the meetings tell us the world was still a mess while we were gone. And today's not lookin' much better so you better get to work on it. And then there's the school house where we teach or learn. It's waiting to tell us the same kids are returning who left last spring. Even the ornery ones, joy, joy! (Yes, you gotta deal with Trevor/Tavon this year!) Moses got the idol to deal with; Jesus, the sin-soaked world that arrests its prophets and puts forth disciples who never seem to get it right, somehow. You and I get, well, whatever we get. Everybody has to come down from our mountaintops and live on the plains and walk through the valleys. Nobody's exempt. God does not remove us from this, any more than even his most chosen of the chosen. This is the real world in which we all live out our callings. But there is good news! He sends his angels to minister to us, as to Jesus. (In fact, scores of them are in this room!) Ole Satan is forced to withdraw and cool his heels. And that gives you and me the power to make it through that first day back, and all the days that follow. Just take with you the heaven you find in Jesus, heed his call, and look for his angels.

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