Pastor's Blog

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 3)

I do not remember many "vacations" in my growing up years. Allow me to clarify because I want to be fair.

In younger years I remember glorious times in the high elevations of northern New Mexico at a camp affiliated with our denomination. My parents worked as staff and, looking back, God used used that camp to create within me a sense of wonder at His creation.

Meadow Loop in Wawona

While in Australia I remember a beach trip to Port Vincent, as well as truly wonderful summer's off from school. Twice, on the journeys between Australia and the U.S., I remember spending languorous days in Fiji, eating fresh coconut in the mornings and hot Indian curry in the evenings.

Toulumne Meadows

I have good memories of my growing up years and cannot moan about a childhood of unending grind. Far from it. I had many good experiences. Yet I believe it is fair to say planning regular times of vacation - just for the sake of vacation - was not a part of my family's way of life. There needed to be a reason to justify trips or departures from the standard routine. That reason needed to be larger than mere ... vacation.

Dog Lake

Surely some kind of ministry can be accomplished, giving purpose to the trip. Surely there are people who need to be visited. Surely there is a conference, a lectureship, or some kind of quasi-religious or spiritual or church event that can justify the travel. 

None of which is ... vacation. No, it is not. You may think it is, but it is not ... vacation. It may be many things and fun may even be a blessed serendipity, but it is not ... vacation. Not if your's is a pastor's family. Not if the routines of your life are wound tightly by the cords of ministry. 

Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

Because vacation is time set aside to not do what you're always doing. Vacation is intentionally suspending the working routines of life. And hear me out: I'm a big believer in the working routines of life! I'm not a big believer in "the 40 hour week" or - God save us from the French disease - a 35 hour week! I believe in working and working hard, and with vigor and "stop watching the clock!" Count me among those more concerned with getting the job done well than in wondering how much time it takes to do the job. 

I believe in playing hard, too. God did not make us to rev at high speed all the time. Nor, if we are at all concerned about longevity and creativity, ought we work day after day after day after day after ... . (You get the idea.)

God made us to need and want a Sabbath. God rested and He did not need to rest. God did not need to refill the pools of His sagging imagination; did not need to replenish His depleted stores of energy. But God did rest. He chose to rest.

If God chose to rest, and embedded the Sabbath into the spiritual DNA of His Image Bearers, then neglecting our own rest bucks us up against God's intention for our lives. We neglect times of rest and re-creation at our peril. By foregoing rest we take unto ourselves a prerogative reserved for God: that we can work indefinitely. We can't. Last I looked, only God can do that ... and He rested. 

Our trip to Yosemite affirmed my genuine, God-designed, need for rest. Yet we ended up hiking, all told, around 60 miles. How was this "rest"?

  • First, intentionally, it was not work. Our trip served no other purpose than to lift us away from the routines of work. It required us to lift our eyes and see a larger world. In doing so we deepen our trust in God.
  • Second, because it was Yosemite, it fed our natural hunger for re-creation and beauty. God has made this world and made everything beautiful in its time. God has embedded within us a natural longing, an instinctive response, to genuine, noble beauty. Our vacation made us thankful.

The third reason will be in the next post. 

The next post will also be the last post in this series.

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 1)

Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 2): July 4th in Yosemite

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Lessons from a Great Vacation (Pt. 2): July 4th in Yosemite

My most precious memories of July 4th come from the years 1971 to 1978 when I lived in Adelaide, South Australia. During those years I would grow to embrace my identity as a citizen of a magnificently great nation.

But remember those years. I remember viewing from across the ocean Nixon, Watergate and the end of the Viet Nam war. Importantly, I viewed those events both as citizen and foreigner.

As a citizen, though just a teenage boy, I was pained by the obvious trauma and scandal my country was experiencing.  I saw my President burned in effigy. I was, once, beaten up by a gang primarily because I was citizen of the United States.

Yet, despite being young, I understood there was something special about a nation that waged its great policy battles in public and not behind closed doors. From the Australian perspective I was, as an American, proud my system worked. I was proud my country could remove a corrupt leader and transfer power peacefully, without the bloodshed of revolution.

Further, regarding Viet Nam, I was proud my country lived up to its highest ideals. When the time came, we left. As dreadful and painful as Viet Nam was after so much blood and treasure, we left. We proved ourselves, as a nation and as a world power, to be disinterested in territorial conquest. We really were different.

As I grew older, returning the United States, I came realize my understanding of patriotism had been shaped during those years. My patriotism was not, "My country: love it or leave it."

I believed in the patriotism of "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died. Land of the pilgrims' pride. From every mountain side, let freedom ring."

I believed in the patriotism of "America! America! God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self control; thy liberty in law."

G. K. Chesterton makes this observation about patriotism:  " 'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.' "

A citizen should love his or her country. But patriotism requires energies devoted to the highest good of the country. At times patriotism requires facing hard truths and making difficult choices. Patriotism ought to validate our highest ideals of what it means to be a citizen. Patriotism ought to elevate us, drawing out from within us what is best about us.

I am not comfortable with what some might think is "patriotism" when it silences dissent and enforces conformity. Don't have any time for the version of patriotism that demands rights for "me and mine" while withholding those same rights from "you and yours." Reject totally the patriotism that allows (encourages?) me to believe "I am superior and you, if you're not a citizen, are inferior to me." None of the above is patriotism. It is ignorance and folly and danger.

I am not comfortable with what I perceive to be gaudy July 4th celebrations. Don't have a lot of time for amped, ear-bleeding concerts, large inebriated crowds lubricated by freely flowing beer being sloshed on clothes made out of U. S. flags. I know it's probably 'just me' but I find nothing patriotic about excess, conspicuous consumption and public drunkenness. 

Perhaps that's why July 4th in Yosemite was such a special experience. The Park Rangers in Wawona arranged a memorable celebration. We gathered by historic old buildings to sing a few songs. They organized old fashioned games that fit the place and time: three-legged races, sack races and an egg-toss. The day finished with a well attended Barn Dance. There were no fireworks and I did not miss them.

A lump came to my throat as we began singing the patriotic songs. I didn't know these people. Like us, they were travelers from all parts of the nation. Yet at that moment we were all proud and glad citizens united by common songs and a sharing national story. I loved it.

Allow me to make a Christian application. As much as I value my citizenship in these United States even more do I treasure my citizenship in God's Kingdom. For my part, I hope the country of my birth will continue to endure for many generations.

Yet when compared to the longevity of the nations through history we are still a young country. Nations do rise and fall. We ought not be troubled to entertain the idea if the Lord tarries for another 20 centuries our country may not survive the time. 

This is why as much as I'm glad to place hand upon breast to sing 'The Star Spangled Banner,' or pay my deep and silent respect at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, nevertheless because of Christ my true citizenship is in heaven ... "and I await a Savior from there."

Finally, one this life's greatest joys is the gathered worship of God's people. Placed together as a church under God's Sovereign hand, coming from all places and all walks of life, there is something wondrous about worship. During those moments we are united in common identity, sharing our common story and singing our common songs. 

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