Wednesday

The abundant life: Vacation has spiritual benefits

In college, I had a psychology professor who said that he made one major change in his life every seven years. In this way he provided his own "Sabbath rest." At first I thought that this concept was a little radical, but now I am convinced that he was right.

The benefits of rest as a deterrent to stress have been proven medically, but in our fast paced society we often scorn rest as laziness.

The good news is that rest is a spiritual principle. The concept of taking a Sabbath is not new. In Genesis, we read that God the Creator took a "day" of rest after working for "six days." But how does one get rest like Scripture says we should? What my professor did is unrealistic and out of God's will for a lot of us, so we must all find someway to get rest.

It is noteworthy to mention that rest is different from sleep. Although sleep is very important in fighting stress- and fatigue-caused anxiety, rest is actually time spent awake refreshing oneself.

Personally, I have found that to be healthy mentally, spiritually and physically, I need several types of rest. I should have daily rest, weekly rest and yearly rest.

Daily rest is short. Every night before I go to sleep, I read one or two chapters from the Bible. Afterward, I try to pray and listen. I am not always successful. On nights when my mind is cluttered, I either need to write in my journal or talk. Without this daily practice, I find myself getting stressed out.

For weekly rest, I go to church and spend the day with family. For a real Sabbath rest, worship is essential. Activity should not revolve around regular work, if possible. With different working schedules, however, others may rest on another day. That's fine. The point is that a rest should be taken every week.

A yearly rest is paramount. Even if one can not get away, taking a week of vacation to clear the mind is downright spiritual. By vacation I mean doing activities that help you relax--even if that means sitting on your porch drinking tea, watching the world go by.

By separating ourselves from the normal routine, we realize that most of what we worry about isn't essential. Our problems become more manageable. Through rest we reconnect with the world around us and see beauty in small things. It is through rest that we are able to approach our working lives with creative energy and experience more of that abundant life.

The act of balance

Throughout my life I can say that I have learned at least one life lesson from each minister or youth pastor that I have had. One youth pastor used to tell me that there had to be balance in life.

At the time I did not realize how valuable that lesson was, but as I look at the Church, I think about what Pastor Juan used to say and wonder why his words haven't spread very far.

Sadly, the church lacks balance. Politically, we tend to be either Republican, Democrat or completely inactive. Some feel that Christians should embrace 'liberation theology' and use the church to stand for the oppressed and neglected. Theologically, we are either Catholic or Protestant. Protestants are either Calvinists or Arminians; pentecostal or conservative. We either study the Bible in depth or we accept what our preachers say without question. Some say that the King James is the only version. Christians either believe in a literal six day creation or believe in the evolutionary process. Some Christians either want to sing all hymns in church or all praise choruses.

And God help the brother or sister who disagrees.

There are literally a multitude of issues about which Christians do not agree. But where is the balance? Why is it so difficult to open our minds to another point of view?

Balance is essentially a form of love. When we truly love our neighbors we can coexist and still maintain our identities without feeling threatened. Who should we love? God, and our neighbor as we love ourselves. The balance is wrapped up in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

So, for example, if your political views differ from mine, I can respect you even though we may never agree. We may argue furiously, but in the end we are still friends. Why? Because we love and respect each other.

Scripture says to love our enemies. We may find it ridiculous to consider fellow Christians our enemies, but how do we usually feel when someone disagrees with us? Threatened. And when I am threatened I am defensive, therefore, you become my enemy and I will defend myself. Do you see my point?

We in the church need to stop viewing others as the enemy and move toward that love about which Jesus spoke. In this way we will have balance, a much more effective witness and a better relationship with God.

Thursday

Keeping mindful of 'the big picture'

I love the Fourth of July. Not only do I enjoy picnics and fireworks, I enjoy the meaning behind the holiday. It makes me feel good to be an American, a country where I can be free to worship and express my opinion openly.

I am also proud because of my heritage. Sometime during the 1600s, my family left England and traveled across the "pond" to the shores of the New World. They braved the rigors of that world and took an active part in shaping our country.

Four of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence and sacrificed tremendously for doing so. My family is proud of that. During the Civil War one of my relatives was decorated for alerting the Northern army about nearby Confederate troops. We're proud of that too, even though we are a little embarrassed that our relative was trying to go AWOL at the time.

I think that my desire to write and share my opinion stems from that tradition. My dad would say that I "come by it honestly." He also said that my personality is such that I would probably have fought in the Revolution alongside my relatives. I believe he is right. I just hope that I would not have gone AWOL!

Consider this: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12: 1-3).

Keeping our eyes on "the big picture" rather than concentrating on the little things that cause temporary discomfort or angst is what helps us succeed in self-sacrifice. Jesus did it and so did our ancestors. Whenever we feel the pinch of sacrifice, we should keep our mind on our predecessors. That's what the Fourth of July is all about.

Wednesday

Where is the balance?

By Recovering Fundie and Catlover

Throughout my life in church I can say that I have learned at least one life lesson from each minister or youth minister that I have had. Pastor Juan, one of our youth pastors back in California used to tell us that there had to balance in life.

At the time I did not realize how valuable that lesson was. And now, as I look at the Church, I think about what Pastor Juan used to say and wonder why his lesson didn't spread further than my youth group.

Because, sadly, the church lacks balance. Even politics has become a division. The Republicans seem to have made getting into heaven part of a political agenda. The Democrats are considered by many to be against the church. Yet others in the church believe that Christians should never, absolutely not, become political activists. Theological divisions split the church: we are Catholic or Protestant and never the twain shall meet. Protestants are Calvinists or Arminians; pentecostal or conservative; evangelical or non-denominational 'new life'. If we study the bible exegetically others in the church say we border on heresy, for there is naught but the King James version that is the literal Word of God, seemingly handed down by God to Adam and Eve fresh from the Zondervan presses. Other Christians see evolution as an example of God's on-going work. Even music splits the church with some wanting all traditional hymns and others all "Jesus is my boyfriend" type praise choruses. Then there is the major issue of the color of the carpet in the sanctuary ...

I could go on. There is literally a multitude of issues on which Christians do not agree. But where is the balance? Where is the compassion that we should have for one another? Why is it so difficult to open our minds to another point of view, even if we don't agree with it? Isn't the point to be open to people, to other Christians? How can we grow if there is no give and take, no discussion, no contemplation freshened by other perspectives?

This is part of what is killing the church, by driving people from the church and by failing to present a challenging theological environment. Do you see your church life as 'comfort food' for the soul, or do you see it as a challenge, moving you to an expanded, closer relationship with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit?