“Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail”

I wanted to go to the seashore and sit in the sand and contemplate the Lord. I wanted to be in a natural setting conducive to spiritual experiences. It was a two-hour drive but worth it as most of the coastal route is quite scenic. When I got there it was sun up time and the sky was just beautiful. I sat quietly for hours enjoying the peace and quiet. After a while other people started to join me and they were preparing their inflatable kayaks to ride the waves. I watched them in fascination. I wished I had thought of this. I could have borrowed or rented one. It looked like great fun and something new for me. I seldom actually go in the water on these trips.

The time flew by and my spiritual retreat was about over. It was getting to be sunset now. This is the most wonderful time of day. I owed it to myself to go out on the water. It was a sudden revelation; but as mentioned, I had no kayak. One of the others on the beach saw my disappointment and said that he had had enough for the day. “Would you like to borrow my kayak,” he asked. I accepted graciously. These inflatable kayaks are so easy to use and I jumped at the chance. I carried it the few feet to the water and got in and paddled away to get farther out where the waves just start to crest. I was in heaven, God’s territory. Now there were just a few souls in the ocean with me and we waved in greeting. I didn’t need to be alone, but it would have been nice. I sat out beyond the waves for a while and lay back in the kayak to contemplate the darkening sky. The pink spread of color across the horizon was inspirational.

Then I got down to business as it was getting late. This is a popular activity in South Carolina and a few more people joined us on the water. I paddled toward shore and tried to catch a nice wave. They were gentle enough and posed no threat. I easily made my way to land. I turned right around and paddled out deep into the water once again. I said five times and I’m done. The day was drawing to a close and I was so relaxed and comfortable. I went to return the kayak to its owner and surprisingly, he said I could keep it. He had three and this one was the oldest. I now faced the long drive home. No matter. I had enjoyed the day thoroughly and vowed to do it soon again. I deflated the kayak, which only takes a few minutes, carried it to the car, and stowed it in the trunk. It would return it to a hiding place in the garage once home. It will be ready for the next water spiritual adventure.

Rebirth

There are certain rituals in one’s religious life that are particularly memorable. Baptism is certainly one of them although the person being baptized is sometimes too young to recall anything about the experience. For the parents and family, it is quite a different matter. Other rites like marriage and confirmation happen at a later stage in life. It all adds up to one’s spiritual upbringing. The more the parents adhere to tradition, the more it will have an impact on the child. Adults who come late to baptism have a different perspective. They want to commemorate their newfound faith and believe that symbolic acts will make it more solid. I have been interested in the subject of baptism lately for an article for a periodical and decided to visit a church near my school which baptizes people in the water of an above ground pool.

Apparently this is an oddity. I have not encountered other such places. The church does not have the funds as yet to build a proper baptism pool. This is an important goal for the congregation and people are trying to come up with fund raising ideas so they can stop using the temporary solution of the best above ground pool that we can afford. It doesn’t inspire the people being baptized as much as a real baptism pool. It is more a stop-gap effort by the church because they can’t cease doing this ritual until they raise enough money for the new pool. They are actively looking for a donor to fund their project. It will likely be a member of the church and perhaps a local business person who wants to make a kind gesture and get some good public relations in the community. I am helping to get the word out as best I can. The church newsletter includes an appeal and we have circulated among parishioners as well as local vendors. If we are not successful, we no doubt will apply for a grant or hold some kind of event where we charge admission and have an auction. The total take from the event should be enough to cover building the baptism pool. We will then donate the existing above ground pool to a school in need or a community center for the playground.

It turns out that we did not have to plan a big event which is difficult and time consuming. We did receive a response from several local donors who were willing to split the total cost of the new pool installation. They were willing to pay whatever was necessary to make it a picturesque and well-constructed pool. We wanted to honor these donors with a celebration at the time the installation is completed. We would also mention their charitable nature in our church newsletter. It serves a dual function internally in the church and as a community bulletin. I am sure that these donors will get new business as a result, but this was not entirely their intent. They believed in the necessity of the new pool and the important rituals that would take place.

Weekend Retreat

My men’s group at church has periodic retreats where we get together away from the hustle and bustle of home and work to think and reflect and plan community service activities. We always have a full agenda. The retreat has a special role in any group’s life and we look forward to it intensely each year, especially in that there are always new places to go. The nature of a retreat is a getaway where you enter a period of intense concentration and deal with matters of import to the group. This is not to say you can’t sit back and relax and enjoy wherever you are. We always select a place that lends itself to the enjoyment of nature. It is usually a resort atmosphere such as a mountain cabin or a beachfront rental home. We like to try something different each time. It has to have the opportunity for escape. This way members of the group can break away from time to time and enjoy fishing, some water sports or even a scenic hike.

This year I was in charge of the extracurricular activities and it just so happened that our venue this time was at the beach. I peppered the meeting agenda with enough breaks so that everyone could enjoy the sun and the sand during various parts of the day. I organized walks, lectures on the sand adjacent to the water, and some group games. I rented some high quality beach chairs that I set up outside so people could watch any sail boats, water sports going on, and people bathing in the waves; and they could also benefit from the rays of the midday sun that are always invigorating as they warm you to the core. During the early evening, they could stay put and watch the sun set and appreciate the beautiful display of God’s handiwork. There is nothing as inspiring as nature to put you in the right frame of mind. When you are outdoors, you meditate as you contemplate what God has wrought. It is a very spiritual experience. A retreat demands to be in a place that exalts nature and reminds us of what we must be thankful for.

The beach retreat was a tremendous success because of the scenic beauty we shared. The meetings were icing on the cake of course. But as for our breaks, our beach chairs were comfortable and a relaxing way to be able to sit up and enjoy the stellar view. I set them up in groups to facilitate conversation and camaraderie. It was better than a line up of beach towels in rows on the sand. Beach chairs can be adjusted so you get just the right angle. You can eat or drink because you are not actually reclining, and yet you are not upright. I did my job right. No one moved a single chair to a different position. I was a master of ad hoc organization.

Every Little Bit Helps

I belief I should dedicate my life to good works. Everyone has an obligation to give back to the community large or small—or in some way to the world. You have to seek opportunities to do so and make charitable work a large part of your life. There is nothing that gives you more personal satisfaction. I urge everyone to listen to their heart (with a stethoscope if necessary, and shortly you will see why this is apropos). Each one of us has a calling to help others be it an institution or organization or group of people in need. When I am asked, I am the first in line to volunteer.

Yes, that’s me. As a case in point, I recently volunteered at a carnival that had as one of its main purposes to raise money for a free clinic in the neighborhood. We wanted to thank the clinic for the local work they do and thought a carnival would be ideal as it would attract neighborhood denizens young and old. It is a simple way to find some extra funds for a worthy institution because you can make a profit for very little cash up front. You can get someone or local businesses to support the enterprise and pay for the rentals of the booths and the part-time help. You need kid’s events like games for prizes, food for the passersby, and all sorts of random amusements so people will spend their time—and eventually their money. The carnival was organized for so that enough money would be available to distribute new stethoscopes for doctors at the local clinic. As everyone knows, these are the tools of the medical trade and they do wear out. Good ones can be purchased for a decent price that include all the regular features for the physical assessment and monitoring of patients.

As far as I know, the classic model was selected for value and reliability. It has a sing-sided chestpiece that I heart is designed for easier grip and maneuvering. As in all stethoscopes, it is a tunable diaphragm. Hear high or low frequency sounds by slightly adjusting pressure on the chestpiece. The device also features soft-sealing eartips provide an excellent acoustic seal and comfortable fit. So the staff should be pretty pleased with their new acquisitions to listen to heart sounds. This tool is so important that it is often the first thing used during a preliminary medical examination. There isn’t a doctor or nurse who isn’t wearing this tubular implement around their neck.

I hope the carnival will generate enough revenue to fund the stethoscopes. Every little bit helps and I do believe that some local people will make up the difference if we fall short. The carnival will be a great public relations event to draw attention to the good work of the clinic. It will remind people of the good works happening in their midst. I am pleased to participate in something worthwhile for this month’s personal public contribution. I look forward to any and all such ventures.

Weekend Well Spent

This weekend was a memorable one. I have been searching for ways to reach out to the community in the area around my college and it hasn’t been easy. Most events seem to be isolated events, so it has been hard to get into a good, consistent habit of giving. I had asked around and was told that there was a community center looking for some strong bodies who were used to power tools.

It sounded promising, and I’ve been known to lift a hammer or two. I headed out there bright and early on Saturday. It turned out that we were all volunteering to build a nice sized treehouse for the kids who use the community center. That was pretty exciting! They split us up into four groups: one group did the measuring and sawing of the boards, one group ran materials from place to place, one group did the hammering, and one group did the painting. I ended up on the team that did the hammering. It actually wasn’t too difficult. Someone had brought two portable air compressors that they’d found online here and we were able to run some pneumatic air guns from them. These were great because we were able to just run them with an extension cord and wheel them wherever we needed to be. I’ve never used a nail gun before but it was a quick learning curve. So much easier than having to do everything manually! We had the majority of the frame up by lunchtime. We all took a break to eat (the crew that was assigned to painting also ran the BBQ grill and passed out the food) and got the walls up shortly before 3. The roof was last, and probably the most time consuming. It was not my favorite because it didn’t feel so terrible when we were laying down the floorboards, and I really didn’t notice it at all when we were putting up the walls, but boy did I notice how high we were up on that roof!

I’m not going to lie, I said a prayer for myself and the other workers so that we would be safe in God’s hands while we did His work up there. It felt like the longest part of the day, but honestly, it only lasted about two hours. I was pretty happy to climb down, and it wasn’t just because my job was done! Then the paint crew started up—the kids were part of this group—and they were really excited. The community center bought a bunch of small sample size paints, so the kids were able to pick a favorite color and they painted it however they wanted. It made for a very colorful treehouse, for sure.

I hung around for a while longer to talk to everyone. The director of the community center is a nice guy and took my phone number. He said he was going to look into some program openings and see if I can get something more permanent there on Saturdays. I really hope something comes of it. Everyone was so nice and the kids were so eager to have a sincerely positive influence in their lives.

Home for the Weekend

School has been really stressful lately and I decided the best course of action would be to take a weekend and head home for a break. I wanted to recharge my batteries and be somewhere that people know me as more than just “that guy in my (insert name of course here) class.” I needed to sit in the pew of my hometown church, the place where I have gone every Sunday since…well, before I was born, honestly, since my mom has been a member of the church from when my parents moved shortly after they got married.

In other words, I needed to feel my own history, be amongst my people, and absorb their wisdom. My dad had other plans.

As soon as I walked in the door, I knew something was up. My mom took my duffle bag and offered to do some laundry for me while my dad pulled a chair out for me at the table. He started talking and it took me a moment to realize he was asking me to help him paint the dining room. I looked around. It’s been the same eggshell color for as long as I can remember, but I guess my parents have decided that it’s time to branch out—they wanted to paint it green. And my dad wanted my help. Amazing how they decided to do this on the one weekend I could get home in two months, isn’t it? But they are my parents, and they’ve done a lot for me. They knew I would do this for them; it is not even really an option to say no.

That’s why on Saturday, I got up early and went with my dad to pick up the paint he’d ordered from the hardware store. The manager on duty somehow convinced my dad to use a spray gun, so we rented one of those plus an air compressor to run it. The idea of using something to get the job done faster definitely appealed to me, so the fact that my dad went along with the manager’s suggestion so easily made me wonder if my mother is really the brains behind this change and my dad would rather be watching football and attending bible study all weekend.

We got home and cleared out the dining room furniture–it involved taking the legs off the table–and took down the curtains. We laid down drop cloths to protect the floor from overspray. We had to thin the paint because it was latex based—although the manager assured us that we were using a state-of-the-art paint sprayer that was the best paint sprayer for latex paint they had, it still needed to be thinned before we tried to put it on the walls. We put on goggles and masked up, and then my dad turned on the compressor and got started. I started across the way from him, painting around the doorway with a brush before moving to the next wall to paint around the window. We worked like this for awhile, and then his arm got tired so he handed me the sprayer and told me to have at it. Honestly, it took me a little trial-and-error to get the hang of it. I am very thankful we had the drop cloth down! The overspray was a bit of a pain but we still got the job done faster than if we’d ignored the manager and done everything with rollers.

It took us about three hours to get the room finished. We collected up the drop cloths and brought the furniture back in. The table legs went back on, and we rehung the curtains. Mom insisted we go out to dinner because she didn’t want the paint smell interfering with her cooking. Yesterday, I finally got to attend church service, which I was really happy about, and then family came over to have an early supper in our new (green) dining room.

It turned out that working with my hands and helping my dad was something I needed, too. I came back here right after supper, and I feel better already.

Strengthening Your Personal Relationship With God

Man holding arms up in praise against golden sunset

If you are a Christian, then you already have a personal relationship with God to a certain extent. You have already felt the presence of God and Jesus in one way or another. However, you may still want to feel that much more connected to God and Jesus, and there are plenty of ways of doing so.

For one thing, you can attend church services more frequently. The people who only go to church on holidays are not doing much for their relationships with God. Holidays should represent the highs of your relationship with God, and not merely average moments in that relationship. Ideally, people in this situation should go to church every Sunday. However, as a Baptist, I make an effort to go even more often than that.

It is true that God is everywhere and that you can call on God whenever you wish. Many people will raise that objection whenever it is suggested that they attend church more often. However, it is important to know that people have a tendency to feel that something is more meaningful psychologically if they have to actually perform errands in order to go through with it and they have to change their external environment according to a ritual. Physically going to church and going out of your way to worship God can make all the difference when it comes to making your relationship with Him more real.

Naturally, it is also true that your relationship with God needs to continue outside of the boundaries of church. If you are only a Christian in church, it is as if your relationship with God is based on location and not your emotions. Taking time out of your day to pray on a regular basis can make all the difference in terms of the stability of your relationship with God. I always try to pray before meals and before bedtime. As a result, I’m essentially thanking God for most of the most important daily milestones. Thanking God before meals also demonstrates your gratitude for everything that God has done for you.

At the end of the day, relationships in general are all about emotions. The relationship that you have with God is going to be different from the relationship that you will have with literally anyone else. Your relationship with God is going to be about obedience, virtue, gratitude, reverence, transcendence, spirituality, and faith. You are connected with something larger than yourself when you believe in God. You are connected with something that is pure and good, which is never something that you can truly experience elsewhere on Earth. Finding ways to experience those emotions and stimulate those emotions will allow you to truly feel your bond with God.

You Can Bring Your Faith To College

college-student1

Religious college students have plenty of options. You’ve probably heard your parents express concern about the idea of you going to certain colleges, because they’re worried about you losing your faith. Colleges are stereotyped as being both liberal and secular. Plenty of people stereotype college professors themselves as radical Marxists who are hostile to the idea of faith. Some religious parents will insist that their children attend Christian colleges only because they’re worried about this sort of meeting of minds happening.

You should remember that liberal colleges do tend to emphasize religious tolerance as well. Many left-wing college students are going to be reluctant to debate religion because they are worried about offending people, often regardless of how they actually feel on the subject. You are unlikely to get roped into a discussion of the existence of God unless that’s what you want. Personally, I enjoy discussing these sorts of issues with my fellow classmates. I’m secure enough in my faith that classmates doing blatant atheist discussions isn’t going to make me feel uneasy. If I manage to win another soul for Christ, than it’s just another benefit to the situation. College students are still forming their own identities, so they are going to be more malleable when it comes to their religious beliefs. There’s a lot to be said for using your time in college to be able to spread the word and the good news.

If you’re interested in converting some of your fellow college students, it may actually be somewhat socially acceptable to do so in some circles. College is a great time to debate abstract ideas. Plenty of secular college students who don’t place a great deal of emphasis on faith, and maybe even declared atheists could be open to hearing your thoughts on your beliefs. I know that I’ve managed to get quite a lot of students at least thinking about these sorts of issues, and that effort would have been wasted at many other colleges. It is true that you need to avoid overdoing it or you’re not going to be especially popular on campus. However, I have found that explicit discussions of faith are often socially acceptable in an environment where everyone likes to discuss complex and abstract issues as often as they can.

You don’t have to worry about encountering professors such as those featured in movies like God’s Not Dead. Real college professors would never ask you to declare that you don’t believe in God. You might get into some theistic discussions in college classes, but these will always be discussions and not declarations of anything. You might meet some openly atheistic professors, but they are going to be subtle about their religious beliefs or lack thereof in front of their students. People might debate you, but no one is going to attack you. If they do, they’re the ones who are going to get in trouble.

If you’re going to a secular university, you can still practice your faith just fine. These schools go out of their way to make sure that many major religions have groups on campus. You should be able to find a local Christian group on campus, and you will be able to meet all sorts of other people of faith when you are actually there. Many colleges are going to have local churches as well, and you should be able to attend local services together as a group.

If you’ve been a member of a children’s Christian group or a youth group, you should more or less know what to expect from these sorts of organizations. It is also true that you will be able to enjoy them when you are actually in college taking part in everything. Your worship certainly doesn’t have to take a backseat to your studies or your time in college. You can integrate your Christianity into your life as a college student.

Your Spiritual Home Is Everywhere

One of the most important things that Christians need to remember is that God is everywhere. We really can experience God’s love and God’s presence in any location. While it is important to go to church for the sake of community and strengthening your relationship with God, you are still going to be spending most of your life outside of church and outside of the confines of this spiritual haven. You need to be able to make your home environment spiritual, wherever that home environment happens to be.

If you’re temporarily away from your childhood home when you are at college, for instance, there are plenty of ways to bring spirituality into your immediate surroundings. Obviously, you should have a Bible and a cross in your home away from home. The cross or collection of crosses should be displayed prominently, allowing you to always receive something of a visual reminder of your beliefs from many different angles. It’s also a good idea to make sure that you have a Bible that you can consult with whenever necessary.

It is true that today people can easily look up Bible verses online, which is going to make it that much easier for people to get all the information that they need with regards to what is really in the Good Book. However, it is still difficult to match the quiet dignity of a real Bible, and having an ornate, leather-bound illustrated Bible makes a more powerful statement than an Internet history that indicates that you go to certain websites and not others. Having a mighty volume like this on hand can make a huge difference.

However, there are plenty of other works that Christians can consult. Plenty of great religious writers have thrown their voices into the world, giving other believers a unique perspective on the faith. It is a good idea to have volumes like these on hand as well. You can consult them during your darkest moments. Plenty of Christian writers can bring a modern perspective to a lot of these issues, and their perspectives can make all the difference for you.

I always try to keep Christian music on hand as well. Music has always been magical in its ability to make you experience certain emotions. There is a reason why nearly all religions will use music in order to establish the right moods. You can access plenty of songs online as well, so you will certainly have your pick of fantastic Christian music. Of course, you will make your home that much more spiritual if you have a good place to pray, especially if you establish that it is a place to pray in some way. The rituals will help, and so will the reinforcement.

Being With Fellow Believers

It is true that people in the Baptist faith place a great deal of emphasis on one’s personal faith in God. However, your personal relationship with God is only going to feel that much stronger when you are able to bond with your fellow believers. Feeling like the lone Christian in a room full of atheists is never pleasant.

As atheism becomes more common and the moderate religious believers either become strong believers or strong nonbelievers, this feeling is only going to get that much more common for people of faith. We will be in rooms full of people who think exactly like us, or we will be trying to maintain our beliefs while surrounded by individuals who think in an entirely different way. I’m secure in my beliefs, but I still do prefer to spend time with the people who will validate them all the time.

Getting the support of a Christian community is one of the great joys of being a person of faith in the first place. You can be with people who share all of your values and who want the same things out of life. They will have the same basis for their morality as you, so you will not get the strange disconnect that you will sometimes get with other people who are outside the faith. The benefits of being with other people of faith really cannot be overstated.

Fortunately, these people are easy to find. Christians have always been very good at organizing. We have been great at finding one another, and we have been skilled at spreading the word of God to other people. We will only continue to be more skilled at that as time goes on and we have the tools of modern technology at our disposal.

The people who are worried that our communities are shrinking should not be concerned. The people who are moving to atheism are the people who never really believed in God all that strongly to begin with, so there really wasn’t all that much to lose. These people were probably never really part of our Christian communities, and they never had to compromise on any of their beloved friendships with other people in order to embrace secularism. There are plenty of devout Baptists out there and plenty of other devout Christians. You will always be able to find lots of other believers in almost any area throughout the United States.

The Eternal Power of Prayer

Spiritual people know that there really is nothing like praying. You manage to feel so much better about yourself and the world before and after you start praying. When you pray, you are literally setting aside some time to actually communicate with God. You are carving out a point in your day when your relationship with God is really the only thing that matters, which is not something that a lot of modern people are able to do very much these days.

We spend a huge portion of our lives concerned with the mundane aspects of life in this world that it is often difficult for us to really concentrate on the next world and our next lives. Our relationship with God and our futures in Heaven tend to be the sorts of things that we put on the proverbial ‘to-do’ list over and over again, year after year. It’s understandable. The modern world is full of both virtues and vices, of temptations and responsibilities. Navigating all of that while still adhering to our higher purpose as human beings is very difficult for even the most talented and faithful of people.

As such, it is even more important for modern people to remember to pray. We need to make sure that we work daily prayer into our lives if we want to make sure that the most important relationship in our lives is a stable one. No matter how often you have to work, you need to make sure that you spend time with your friends and family or you are not going to have a solid relationship with them. Your relationship with God is very similar. Prayer is the way that you interact with God in the first place, although you will experience God’s love in many different ways throughout your life.

Of course, the power of prayer is not just about you and your own relationship with God. It is also a matter of your responsibility as a Christian in many ways. God has the power to fix the world. He often doesn’t because people do not come to Him. People do not call on Him in order to address the global concerns that are plaguing all of society as we speak. More and more people are turning away from God these days, and this sacred connection is darkening all the time. It is more important than ever for Christians to use this tremendous power that we have, calling on Him to make a difference in the areas where mankind has demonstrably failed.