Friday, October 19, 2012


Recently my wife and I went on what is commonly known as a "retreat."  While there are a number of kinds of "retreats,"  in Christian history, ever since Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, Christian retreats are specifically meant to be a time of deepening spirituality and closeness to Christ.  In our particular context this was for pastors and their spouses in our branch of the faith (the Church of the Nazarene) from around our district.

Len Sweet (an author, theologian, and "futurist" in the Wesleyan-Holiness faith tradition) doesn't like to use the word "retreats."  Instead, he calls them "advances" (he himself runs several of these per year and indeed calls them just that, i.e., "fall advance").  I think there is good reason for changing to the word advance.

According to Webster's dictionary, the first definition of retreat is "an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable" or "the usually forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy or from an advanced position."

That same dictionary gives several definitions for advance including "to accelerate the growth or progress of"; "to raise to a higher rank"; and "to bring forward in time."

Jesus comes to us teaching and preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God - that God's Kingdom is here, breaking into the darkness, right now, because God's presence is with us; and, when we choose to repent (turn away from sin and our way of living and doing things and turn towards Jesus and His way of living and doing things), God's presence is not only with us, but within us.  Jesus promises Holy Spirit will live inside us, leading and guiding Jesus disciples into all truth.

It seems to me that Len Sweet's semantics change in this is a good one.  Jesus disciples must be moving forward, not drawing back; growing in grace, not returning to a former way of life; bringing the time of the fullness of God's Kingdom closer, not living in the past.

Now there is a place for withdrawal, especially for times of prayer and seeking God's will - Jesus did this frequently, and He is our example of how to live.  But I think this is a different concept than "retreat."  A withdrawal can be a strategic move in a battle plan that ultimately strengthens one's abilities, position, and the chances of victory.  A retreat generally means you are on the run, on the verge of defeat, and just trying to take cover anywhere you can in order to regroup.  Which one sounds more like this verse of Scripture that comes from the passage that one of our General Superintendents preached to us from yesterday morning at the end of our "retreat"?:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him" (2 Corinthians 2:14).

But my purpose here isn't really to make the case for dumping the use of the word "retreat" in favor of the words "withdrawal" and "advance."  I understand that sometimes what people mean isn't always best expressed by the semantics they choose to express it, and I don't want to be critical here, at all.

What I do want to do is call your attention to the manner in which you might be living your life.   Are you living in such a way that your life is advancing - growing, making progress, becoming more of who you are created and called to be?  Are you living in such a way that you purposefully make time to withdraw so that you can pray and seek God's will?  Or are you living in retreat, running from the difficulties and problems of life or worse burying your head in the sand and hoping they will all just go away?

We cannot advance if we do not confront what we are faced with head on.  It can be scary.  Or frustrating.  Maybe emotionally draining; spiritually depleting; financially crippling.  And it might seem impossible.

But God has been known to be pretty good with that 'impossible' stuff. 

And God is with you.  

For the Jesus disciple, God is also within you.  Are you trusting Holy Spirit to guide you through whatever you are facing?  It's the thing you can do, even if seemingly everything else is the thing you can't do.



P.S. - Do the words we use to describe things matter?  How can Jesus disciples advance in their relationship with God, self, and others? 

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