April 24 – When a Retreat is not a Defeat

Santa CruzThe dictionary does not think highly of retreats.  Its first definition reads, “process of withdrawing from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.” The second definition is “the usually forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy or from an advanced position.” Retreats, it seems, have to do with what is “difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.”  They have to do with getting away from an enemy.  To be sure, there is a derived definition of a retreat offered by Webster: “a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director.”

This coming weekend LPC women will be retreating and then the following weekend LPC men will do the same.  Seventy or so of us retreating for 36-40 hours over the next two weekends.  That last definition about group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction comes closest to what we will be doing, but it doesn’t mention endless games of UNO, lots of laughter, walks in the woods, and the building and strengthening of friendships within the Body of Christ.

But lest we think only of retreat centers and good speakers, we might want to consider the ways in which our women’s and men’s retreats are strategic withdrawals from difficulty, danger, or from that which is disagreeable.  We might need to think about withdrawal from an enemy.

Christians, with our hope in a loving and sovereign God, should not be complainers. Griping and whining is not appropriate for those who know the embrace of the Father, the friendship of the Son, and the presence of the Spirit.  We should be a happy and joyful lot.  But not naïve. Our salvation does not keep us from experiencing difficulties, dangers, or things disagreeable.  The enemy will do his best to sabotage our hope.

I don’t normally think of my life as being difficult, dangerous or disagreeable.  We follow a Lord, however, who reminds us that the way is easy that leads to destruction and is hard that leads to life.  He warns us of danger as he sends us out as a sheep among wolves. Knowing well that that church can be full of difficult people, Paul tells us, nevertheless, “to do all things without grumbling or disputing.”  He says that the enemy is ever shooting his flaming darts in our direction.

Yes, we need to retreat from time to time.

One of the most difficult things about being a Christian is not giving into the easy – to cutting corners and keeping quiet when we know something’s not right.  One of the greatest dangers to Christian thriving is seeking a sense of safety – we convince ourselves that the wolves aren’t so dangerous if we just keep out of their way.  We run from the disagreeability of being, well, disagreeable. Wanting to be seen as agreeable sorts, we settle for something less than the still more excellent way of love. We’re willing to surrender to the enemy so that we can quit worrying about his flaming darts flying in our direction.

I’ve just returned from a retreat, the West Coast Presbyterian Pastors Conference.  Rested, well-taught, and filled with the joy of fellowship with good friends, it’s good to be home and back to LPC.  It’s good to be back to everyday life, life filled to the brim with difficulties, dangers, and disagreeability. No griping, no whining; actually happy and joyful about living life in a difficult, dangerous, and disagreeable world.  The retreat reminded me of just how loving and just how sovereign is the God we meet in Jesus Christ – and just how good it is to follow him.

Pray for our women who will retreat this weekend and the men who will retreat next weekend.