We All Need Down Time

A few weekends ago I went online to do my banking. For an old guy I am pretty savvy on the internet, and I love doing things like shopping and banking on line. No lines, no forms to fill out, just a few clicks on the keyboard, and things get done. Well, at least it works that way most of the time.

But on this particular weekend the bank’s server was down. When I logged on, I found a banner explaining that the server would be down for several hours while they did some maintenance and upgraded the software. Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the diligent work of people who make sure the machines work.  But the situation did make me smile. I am old enough to remember when machines like computers and robots were taking over various parts of our lives.  They could do routine work much faster and much more efficiently than human beings and what’s more—they never needed any time off.  They didn’t get sick.  They didn’t take vacations.  Machines could work 365 days a year, seven days a week—except of course, for the occasional weekend needed for maintenance and software updating.

Of course, we all need down time. All of us need time to do maintenance on our hardware and have our software updated.  I guess this is why God commanded— commanded mind you, not suggested—to keep the Sabbath “holy,” separate, apart from the other days.  We are to keep one day holy, different from the other six.  The word, Sabbath, literally means “to stop,” “to bring to an end.” In other words, God says every six days we are to stop our work. After working for six days, the next day, we bring it all to an end.

Now, most of us, myself included, read this commandment and say, “Well, of course, but this commandment was written before blogs, email, twitter, cell phones, the internet and all of the other 365 days, 24 hour a day interruptions we call modern life—and we wonder, “How do we do that?”

This thought might help. According to the Bible, the truth of the Sabbath was rooted in the FREEDOM of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Their Egyptian masters never gave them a day off (feel familiar?), but a free person has the liberty to stop working if they want. I guess that’s the point which makes me think a little. Am I free to disconnect? Am I free to stop responding to the beeps and flashing lights in my life?  Has all of the technology actually made me a slave? The answer is not what I want it to be…

Like me, you probably need to change. But where do we start? It’s easier than you think. Just start turning things off—the television, the internet, the cell phone–and keep turning things off until things get quiet enough for you to hear yourself think. Get still enough so you can hear the still, small voice God uses so often.

The First Buddhist Chaplain in the U.S. Army

The September 8, 2009 Tennessean had a front page story about the first Buddhist chaplain in the United States Army. The article was about the growing religious diversity of the American military. That’s not the part that caught my eye. The lines that intrigued me were the sentences in which Thomas Dyer, the Buddhist National Guard Chaplain, was introduced as a “former Southern Baptist pastor”.

Now, I have thought about leaving the pastorate, as every pastor has, but I have never considered running off to become a Buddhist monk. I have not met Thomas Dyer, but I would like to. I would bet his story is an interesting one. And his story is one that I have probably heard before.

Before I go any further, let me remind you, I grew up Southern Baptist. I love Southern Baptists. I love being a Southern Baptist. I have never been anything else. There is much about our heritage that I treasure. Our emphasis on soul freedom, local autonomy of the church and our historic emphasis on evangelism and missions gives us a lot to celebrate. But you know how it goes—the same thing that makes you strong makes you weak.

For all of our emphasis on evangelism, we do a lousy job of emphasizing discipleship. We do a good job of getting people introduced to Christ, getting them baptized and into a local church. Then, we don’t know what to with them. In other words, we focus on getting people born again, but we don’t help them grow again. We baptize them, celebrate them, and then we push by them to get to the next person we need to “win to the Lord.”

The result is a spiritual child abuse, or at the very least, child neglect. What kind of family would bring a child into the world, but then fail to feed and nurture that child? We would. The church would—and does. This failure of discipleship has left the church anemic and immature. Every statistic we track gives evidence of the shallowness of the lives of most of our members. From attendance, to giving, to evangelism, all of them reflect the failure of our converts to become disciples. For Southern Baptist churches and for the convention to fulfill our mission in the world, we must recapture the emphasis of discipleship.

Our members, once born into Christ, must grow into Christ. Sadly, if you desire such a deeper life, you have to go outside Southern Baptist life to find people who are writing about a deeper prayer life, meditating on the Scriptures, initiating acts of love simply because you have learned to recognize the face of Christ in the faces of those around you. The mature tree bears fruit. A return to the biblical call of discipleship—the process of the disciple becoming more and more like the Master—will address many of our bottom line issues. After all, we cannot give to others what we don’t have in ourselves.