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Religion and Stress

            Obviously, as a Christian life coach I bring some bias to the table and I will be up front about that, as my own personal faith has helped me through some very difficult and stressful times in my life. I wanted to share some sources that are from more neutral sources. These studies below represent ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ and not only Christianity.

          According to more than one study, “Religious people have  a thicker section of brain tissue in cortex which  helps prevents depression.  According to another group of studies, religious people take fewer sick days,  are less anxious and have a greater sense of purpose and mission in their work. Prayer and meditation also have made their ways into recent studies. Doing these two activities can help relieve stress.

Think about the bigger picture.

              Part of this, no matter what a person’s take on religion or spirituality is, is about finding identity. Once a person knows who they are and what they are all about, they are better able to manage the difficulties and stress in life. Having a foundational  starting point of morality, community and theology can be a wonderful place to learn about yourself, your purpose in life, learn about humanity and God. Thus religion can be a huge benefit in life by simply helping a person discover who they are and what this world is all about.

Focus on God, not on being a pastor

 Pastors and Christian leaders commonly think, “I have to act like a clergy at all times?” Wherever a pastor or Christian leader is at the store, church, home, with family or in town, they feel that they have to act as a clergy/pastor persona. Part of this is absolutely true. Once you decide to go into ministry, you put yourself and family under fire and your house is a glass house. All that is true.
This is what I like to call the Pedestal Syndrome. It is frustrating, we (as ministers) tend to put on unreal expectations on our own self!  In reality we are human too. We are not perfect people. Worse, we feel guilty for not meeting those unhealthy expectations. Next this can provoke, a “fake” you….you never really feel free to relax and be yourself, because we feel you “have to be pastor.”
Do you remember the call to ministry in your life? Think about your sense of God’s call in your life. What passages in the Bible  describe that call? What was your experience life when you knew that you were called? Which biblical figures/characters do you relate with?  Where were you? Put yourself in that place for a moment. What Biblical passages come to mind in regards to your calling?  Recall those Scriptures that really encourage you, even today in your ministry. Write about this experience. It is important to not censor your writing in the process. You are not trying to compose and essay on the call. You are simply writing without stopping for 10 minutes or so. Then go back and read what you have written and see what that evokes in you. if you need to look something up quickly in your Bible that is fine also. Meditatively and prayfully just write, free-flowingly…Don‘t throw away what seems irrelevant. Save it and see what God does with it later.  
Here are some ideas to boost your spiritual thought this week:
Option 1- One practice that can strengthen your own spiritual life is the silent meal. This is frequently practiced in monasteries. There is a freedom in not being expected to speak and interact with others. It offers you an opportunity to draw within yourself.This can be practiced even at a fast food restaurant. Order an inexpensive meal, choose a table, and enter into a time of silence in the midst of the cacophony of the world around you. As you sit down at the table, before you unwrap your meal, begin your prayer time. Begin with prayers for all those who had some part in preparing the meal before you, taking that as far back in the food process as possible. There was someone who has raised the animal or planted and cared for the vegetables that you are about to eat, who prepared the paper, designed the package, etc.
After about ten minutes of prayer, begin to slowly unwrap your simple meal and occasionally take a bite or sip of my drink as you continue your prayers. As much as possible, pray with your eyes closed and your mind totally focused. You might pray for people or situations in your ministry, or pray for colleagues that you know are having a difficult time. Prayer for at least one-half hour from the time that you sit down at the table.
Option 2- Take short periods of time in the beginning. Determine to take a half-hour break in which you will explore how Scripture can speak to you about the attributes of God. Use a concordance to identify some adjectives that praise God. Gather up several of them and then spend some time exploring the nature of God through these adjectives. That might come in the form of a word study or it might be in the form of contemplation around one or two of these adjectives. Whatever your approach,, the purpose is to focus your attention on the wonder of God.

The time limit of one-half hour might even serve the advantage of intriguing you so that you want to set aside another half-hour at another time to continue the experience. Discipline yourself to avoid thinking of how useful your work might be for a sermon, a class, etc. This is time to place yourself purely in the presence of God in a loving way. However you go about it, keep some notes on how it makes you feel. If one aspect of the Sabbath is to step outside of the normal pace of life to nurture relationships, this is a way to begin with a short Sabbath experience of loving God.

Leadership lessons from two disciplers/mentors

1. These leaders were careful and caring. They know they are working with people. They understand that dealing with people means that you have got to love them. Teaching them truth and life lessons is important and good but why? Why…well because it is BEST for them. What does that mean, why is it “best” for them? It is love that motivates the teaching of the truth not the truth alone. Truth alone is painful and not always helpful.

2. Leadership requires dependence on God. Pray before you go sharing. Pray before you eat. Pray before you study the Word of God. Pray…these leaders showed me the tender heart and dependence on God that is so necessary before we minister to others.

3. Both of these leaders focus on the Word of God – this is where their approach and strategy comes from.

My two guys who are making disciples: one is a pastor and the other is a campus Crusade leader. They have separate strategies and ideas are both founded on the Word of God. Both see the connection between evangelism and discipleship. Both have a lot of creative ideas.

The main difference between the two is that my Campus Crusade disciple has more of a “closed” approach to his discipleship team. This might be because he does not have time to disciple everyone and that is true.. He focuses a lot of time and quality on those he does disciple! And He is a busy busy man whom has other Crusade responsibilities to attend to.

Marks of Maturity

In the latter part of Galatians 5, the apostle Paul urges the Christians of Galatia, to practical godliness and he also warns against the snares of the false teachers. Paul wants to be clear. Christians are not to live by flesh. And they are not under law. Instead they are to live by love and live by the Spirit (v. 13-26). Paul wrote Galatians because Judiazers or Christian-Jews were coming in and teaching the churches in Galatia that in order to be saved, Christians must continue to follow the law. Paul’s main purposes in Galatians were to establish his authority as an apostle, re-establish the true meaning of the Gospel, warn against these Judiazers, and establish the place for the law.

Paul says that we are to love each other as ourselves. We can only do this by living by the Spirit. By the Spirit we are no longer under the works and desires of flesh: “sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things.” Instead we are filled with: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (v19-21).”

It is only through and because of Christ that we can live in the Spirit. For, “those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another” (v. 22-26).

I will examine three of these fruits more closely: Self-control, peace and patience. (I chose these three because they are most difficult for me.) Self-control is rendered from the Greek word, “ejgkravteia” and the Latin word, continenia. Self-control is a concept that is difficult to pin down and grasp exactly and completely. Self-control is the ability to restrain impulse, set up boundaries, or control actions. The only real “self-control” comes from the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is living in a Christian, then the Christian is able to resist temptation to sin, choose words wisely, and is able to control thoughts and actions that are fleshly or ungodly. Having self-control is a mark of spiritual maturity. Solomon writes in Proverbs five that “An evil man is held captive by his own sins; they are ropes that catch and hold him. He will die for lack of self-control; he will be lost because of his great foolishness (v. 22, 23).”
According to this verse, evil and foolish men do not have self-control. Self-control is a characteristic of the Holy Spirit and spiritual growth.
Peace is resting in relationship w God. In John 14:27, Jesus says “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (NKJV).” Again in Matthew 11, Jesus speaks of the true source of peace, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (v. 28-30).” Jesus is saying that he gives peace. He wants you to find rest in Him. In our own power we will not be able to handle the stress and sins of this world, but in Christ we can.

The word “peace” comes from the Greek word “eirene”, the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word “shalom”, (and Latin word, “ pax,”) which expresses the idea of wholeness, completeness, or tranquility in the soul that is unaffected by the outward circumstances or pressures. This peace is rule of order in place of chaos. When a person is dominated by peace, he has a calm, inner stability that results in the ability to conduct himself peacefully, even in the midst of circumstances that would normally be very nerve-wrecking, traumatic, or upsetting…Rather than allowing the difficulties and pressures of life to break him, a person who is possessed by peace is whole, complete, orderly, stable, and poised for blessing. This is a mark of maturity because it is a command by Paul and Jesus to let the peace be a part of our lives. Phil. 4:7, “And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” It is also a mark of maturity because when outsiders of Christianity see our peace, they will be curious about it. They will want it. They will see Jesus in our lives.

This peace is difficult for me and many other Christians because we like control, or at least I do. I want to make sure I have everything under control. I want to do things my own way. So I try to do things on my own power. When I do things on my own power, I forfeit this peace that Christ offers. But when I let go of my own control and let Christ control everything, this is when I truly have peace!

Patience, which in some translations is “longsuffering” or “endurance,” is defined in Strong’s by two Greek words, “makrothumia” and “hupomone.” In Latin it is the word, “longanimitas.” Trying to give an English equivalent is a little more difficult. The words: lenience, forbearance, fortitude, patient endurance, forgiving tolerance, mercy, and longsuffering – come to mind. It describes a person who has the power to exercise revenge but instead exercises restraint. The person who is patient can endure suffering, stand during difficult circumstances, and tolerate unpleasant things, such as persecution or simply annoyances. Hebrews 10:36 says “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”

Patience is a mark of maturity in the same ways as peace is. In Eph. 4, Paul calls us to patience and tolerance towards each other as Christians to preserve unity in the Spirit. In 1 Tim. 1:16, Paul says, “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” We are following Christ’s example when we have patience. We are following Paul’s example in Antioch and the prophets example of old (James 5:10, 2 Tim. 3:10). Ecc. 7:8, “Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.”

As Christians we are to live life in Spirit. Right before Jesus ascended into Heaven he spoke about the Holy Spirit, which he left for us. Act 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Both Paul and Jesus commanded us to live by the Spirit. When we surrender our fleshly will to God’s will in the Holy Spirit then all of the characteristics, marks of maturity or fruits written about in Galatians 5:22–26, Colossians 3:12–17, or Psalm 15 will be evident in our own lives. I would like to close with 2 Peter 1: 5-8. See how these fruits build on each other. We start with faith and we grow into creatures of love! “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love.

For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately (NET).”

We have made so little of imagination

I am reading Spiritual Life : The Foundation For Preaching and Teaching for my class on Spiritual Formation.

The book has got me thinking a lot already. One topic addressed is that Christians recently, along with American society as a whole, has forgotten about mystery and imagination, in its quest for rationality and analytical thinking during the Enlightenment.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depends on how you look at it), humans are not analytical and logical but we also are creatures of intuition and imagination. There is healthy balance that needs to be in place. We “see” deeper meaning of our experiences. We can look beyond the mere surface, we are complex and mysterious creatures.

The Enlightenment left people thinking that objective truth is the only way. During this time things like the arts and other more subjective mysteries were neglected.

Faith and prayer are some of the other things that have been forgotten and left behind in the last three centuries.

Also an interesting note is that our teaching and preaching style in these years has been greatly affected by the Enlightenment. Instead of looking at Scripture from a theological angle, us looking down into Scripture to study it – we can and should from time to time change our method. We can allow the Scripture to meditate on top of us. Instead of looking to study we can be more intuitive and let the Scriptures engage our hearts. We can be flooded with the mysteries
on our hearts all day, instead of trying to control the Scriptures with our own minds.

Thomas Merton, a monk, had a dream about a Protestant theologian, in summary, the dream suggested that he [the theologian] would be saved more by the music lover in him than the theologian in him.

Freebie Friday: Article (Deciding on a Major)


This is not mine, but it is a great free article for High school seniors and parents with older High School/ young college-age students from CPYU Ministries. I recommend it to High Schoolers and Parents. Here is the trackback link. The full article is posted below:

The beginnings of vocation: Deciding on a major
By Derek Melleby
I recently heard a missionary in Africa tell what it was like to buy toothpaste in the United Sates. He stared at 30 options and eventually left the store—with no purchase. He was overwhelmed. All he wanted was clean teeth. What he got was an anxiety attack. Many of us felt like that missionary when we began college facing the academic array of programs and majors.
There’s a small liberal arts college near my house that has about 1,800 students and offers 53 majors and 80 minors/concentrations. Fifty-three majors? Keep in mind: this is a small school! This could be an anxiety attack waiting to happen. No wonder students are often overwhelmed, and many end up switching majors several times until necessity forces the choice. That’s the point of sociologist Barry Schwartz’s insightful book The Paradox of Choice. Schwartz maintains that choice does, in fact, improve the quality of our lives. No question. The problem, he suggests, is that “as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.” It’s a paradox. More choice can sometimes lead to less freedom. The amount of choices we have can be paralyzing.
The major problem
There are different kinds of choices, of course. Choosing a toothpaste isn’t that big a deal. Some grocery stores may even allow you to return it if you are dissatisfied. Schwartz quips, “I think that in modern America, we have far too many options for breakfast cereal and not enough options for president.” Clearly, some choices are more important than others. For instance, choosing a major. Having 53 majors to choose from sounds good on paper, but then you have to actually choose. You have to say “no” to 52 options. How will you make that decision? What
will you decide to study for the next four years? What role will your faith play in this choice? How important is your major compared to the even bigger question of your future career and calling? Deciding on a major can be difficult. I wish I had a magic formula. But, unfortunately, “magic formulas” wasn’t one of the majors offered at the university I attended. (That was a joke.) This isn’t: the first thing you must consider when deciding on a major is why you are going to college in the first place. Most people go to college to get a degree to get a job. Deciding on a major, for them, is directly related to the kind of job they want to get when they
graduate. This puts a lot of pressure on the decision. Let me ease some of that pressure.
First, studies have shown that most graduates are working in career fields that are not directly related to their program of study. I have a degree in political science and work for two faith based non-profit organizations that have little to do with government. I never had a single class on my daily activities, but I think I “use” my major everyday. (More on that later.) Second, for Christians, while career preparation is one aspect of college, it isn’t the
most critical. More importantly, attending college is a gift from God, given to some of His children as a means to increase their serviceability for Him and their neighbors. That’s a mouthful. Cornelius Plantinga Jr. provides a nice summary in his Engaging God’s World: “Your college education is meant to prepare you for prime citizenship in the Kingdom of God … Your calling is to prepare for further calling, and to do so in a Christian community that cares as
much about the kind of person you are becoming as what kind of job you will eventually get, and as much about how you will do your job as about which job you do.”
The major landscape
But you do need to choose. You can’t remain “undecided” forever. College is already expensive enough! To make an informed decision, you should know the spectrum of majors offered at most colleges and universities. On one end of the spectrum, there are highly specialized, job specific majors. Most of what you learn is directly related to the job you will do once you graduate, with very little wiggle room. These majors often come with certifications that need to be completed. Nursing, engineering, accounting and even teaching fall into this category. On the other
end of the spectrum, there are “liberal arts” degrees. History, English, philosophy and political science are a few examples of the liberal arts. The major consists of a broad-based education, which, at its best, is more concerned with critical thinking skills than job-specific skills. I like to call it: “the little bit of everything major.” Finally, there are majors that fall somewhere in the middle on the continuum. A business degree is a good example. While there is some job-specific knowledge acquired, there is still some room to take other courses (electives) to broaden your
horizons.
This is helpful to know before selecting a major. Here’s the simple question: what kind of education do you want to have? If you are pretty sure you would like to be a nurse, don’t expect too many opportunities to study literature or art history. If you enjoy studying philosophy or religion, majoring in accounting may not be a good fit. You only have so many credits (and years!) to work with and knowing the kinds of classes you can take is an important
question to ask your advisor.
The major decision
I can’t stress this enough: Christians really do need to envision college differently. It’s not enough to simply go through the motions, taking tests, getting grades and receiving degrees like everyone else. Through prayer and conversation with people who know you well, you must always remain open to God’s call and leading. Picking a major may be one of the first times that you truly put your faith in action. Here are some questions to ask when deciding on a major:
First, what interests you? Spiritual growth requires discipline and sacrifice, to be sure (the Bible does speak of denying ourselves), but I don’t think we need to give up or distrust our natural interests. Trust that your passions and interests were given to you by God. The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to suggest that there is something good about “following your heart when you are young.” This idea is also taught in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the
Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Be intentional about nurturing your relationship with God, begin to see the world as He sees it, and be attentive to the Spirit as He directs your interests. Maybe you will discover that you are interested in big ideas and how they shape people and society. Philosophy or sociology would make a good major. We need Christians who are able to discern the times and know what God’s people should do
(1 Chronicles 12:32). Perhaps you realize that you have the gift of teaching, and nothing excites you more than helping students learn new things and grow as people. We need good teachers. The good news is that the creator God is interested in all of His creation, including every field of study, and He’s invited us to share His interests! Is there a possible major or future career area that God doesn’t care about? Math? Geology? Physical therapy? Criminal Justice? Sports management? Computer science? Art history? Jesus loves it all, and we may serve happily
in any of these arenas. Second, how will this major increase your serviceability for God and others? This question is much better than the typical response: “What can you do with that major?” Let’s face it, we live in a “me-centered” world and
college is full of “me-centered” majors. Once again, college should be more about the kind of person you are becoming and less about the kind of skills you are gaining. Be sure to continually ask yourself whether or not this field of study is helping you to grow as a person and serve your neighbors more fully.
Third, who have you talked to about choosing a major? You can never have too many conversation partners. Talk with people who know you well. Ask them what they think should be your major. Talk to people who have a degree in the major you are most interested in. Ask them good questions: How did you choose that major? What were some of the most important things you learned? If you could do it over again, what would you have done differently? Community is essential to making important decisions. The more important the decision, the more
people you need to be in conversation with.
Earlier I mentioned that I majored in political science, but don’t currently work in a career directly related to that field. I chose to study political science because I thought I wanted to be a journalist or a lawyer. As a freshman, I never imagined that I would be doing anything like my current vocation. But I’ve come to really appreciate how my major informs my work today. Critical thinking, a love of reading and the value of civic engagement were all
instilled in me by studying political science. Looking back, political science was a good major for me after all. Although the college chapter of my life story took many twists and turns, one thing remained constant: God was the Author. Choosing a major is an important, but sometimes stressful decision. But it isn’t final. You can certainly change or refine your major along the way. Some things in life—including a proper discernment about our deepest callings and vocations—unfold even as we enter the process of clarifying our call. Through it all, just remember that trusting the Author of your story is more important still.
Derek Melleby serves as director of the College Transition Initiative for the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.
If you want to know more about CPYU’s College Transition Initiative, or to book a CTI Seminar at your church, visit CPYU on the Web at http://www.cpyu.org. If you’d like to learn more about the college experience, order Derek’s book, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for Students, from the resource center on our Web site. Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, the opinion journal of the Work Research
Foundation (www.wrf.ca/comment).