The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Gal. 5:14 NIV)
Our family was blessed again this year to be able to take a week and attend the Life Action Family Camp. Located less than thirty minutes from the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan, families gathered for a break from ‘life as usual’. Vacations are a chance to regroup and rest; the hope is to return refreshed. In fact, the obvious etymology of the word “recreation” is the prefix “re-“ (again) and the root “create”. But the question is whether we view our vacations and other leisure activities as an opportunity, with God’s blessing, to be restored and reinvigorated not just physically, but spiritually too.
Christians recognize that we are bodies and souls, our spiritual health is important to us—that’s why we diligently practice the spiritual disciplines like daily devotions. But the unbelieving world around us merely looks for pleasure and amusement in the here and now. The entertainment industry works hard to give people the escape they crave from the harsh reality of life in a sin-broken world (and makes a lot of money doing it). Taking a break physically and mentally is healthy, we all need an emotional boost at times, pursuing an activity because it’s interesting or pleasurable is wonderful. However we human beings were made for something more! There is a spiritual dimension and an eternal aspect to how we are to live, to work and even to play. In all things and at all times we are happiest and most blessed when we “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism #1).
Philip Doddridge, an eighteenth century pastor, gave some pertinent direction to a young person regarding what he called “seasons of diversion.” These words, though written long ago, are very applicable to all believers today: “Let us take care that our recreations be well chosen; that they be pursued with a good intention, to fit us for a renewed application to the labours of life; and thus that they be only used in subordination to the hounour of God, the great end of all our actions. Let us take heed that our hearts be not estranged from God by them; and that they do not take up too much of our time . . . .”* Do we become engrossed in worldly amusements to the point that we ignore others or our other responsibilities? Does our entertainment actually unfit us to serve God and neighbor? Do we return from vacation drained?
By God’s grace and in His good providence we have multiple options to choose our vacations and recreations here in America. And there are wonderful opportunities to seek spiritual refreshment as we take a break. Many of you have enjoyed Beachmont Christian Day Camp or Sandy Cove Christian Retreat Center. Camp of the Woods in the Adirondacks offers family camps and our own denomination has a camp and conference center, Ridge Haven, located just south of Ashville, NC, which offers a special 5 day conference for those over 50 in the fall.
If you do decide to go to family camp or take advantage of a Christian conference, you may find your vacation to be exciting in a different way than usual. Focusing intently on God’s Word for a week, praising God in song and in the midst of His beautiful creation, eating together without having to worry about making the food or cleaning up afterwards, and having precious moments to relax and maybe even read is all a marvelous gift of God. The difference this week made in our family’s life was both immediately noticeable and by God’s grace will be long-lasting. Our children learned about their identity in Christ and revival while Sue and I learned about the beauty and joy of the ordinary Christian life that creates extraordinary changes in the long run.
Our week at Life Action Family Camp was a real blessing. But it was also really challenging. This year’s theme was “Love One More”. Every day brought a new challenge to understand and practically work out what that meant. Is there room in my heart, or even in our home, for one more? How can we love others with the same kind of family love that we have for one another? We heard several amazing testimonies that helped us see what that might look like. One of them came from Del Fehsenfeld who shared their family’s journey to open up their home to college students who had never before experienced an intact, loving family—something that many of us took for granted growing up.
As he shared what they have learned, one insight in particular struck us. He said, “There is a difference between a close family and a closed family.”
He explains what he means: “It’s great to have a close family, but not a closed family. Most families are closed (organized to benefit the members), but Jesus families need to be open (organized to include and bless others).”** What a difference a single letter makes! And what a challenge to us too! Do we overly guard our family time in such a way that others are excluded? Have we extended family love to others even as Jesus has extended love to us and brought us into His family? Would there be some who would be blessed by joining us for a meal and how might we be blessed by having them join us?
The application does begin in each of our individual homes, but it also extends to our church family doesn’t it? Are we close or closed? Are our church family activities organized (solely or even primarily) for the benefit of the members? Or are we open, intentionally outward focused, and organized to include and bless others that are not yet part of our church family? Are we reaching out to invite others in? Is the focus on ourselves and our comfort alone? It’s not about us! Even if it’s costly, we must heed the call to “love one more”.
As we were driving back home I had hours to reflect on this. And I was reminded of one of the announcements in our bulletin insert with fresh awareness. For the past month or so we had been asked to consider providing a ride to church for some of our members. What a beautiful way to include someone else in your Sunday morning routine. I trust that particular need has been met, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to see cars pull in with no empty seats because those extra seats were offered to someone who would be blessed by being part of our church family especially if they are not (yet)a member?
Del and his wife have found that “a family with an extra seat at the table is like a magnet.” Pray with me that we can all open our homes and share a meal with the love of Jesus and that, by God’s grace, we could share that love of Jesus with them on Sunday mornings as we worship together as a Jesus family!
Together in His service,
*Philip Doddridge, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, reprinted 1991 by Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, p. 191. emphasis mine
**Revive magazine, Vol. 47, Issue 1, page 5. Available online: http://lifeaction.org/revive-magazine/