Your Release Valve

By Rev. Paul N. Papas II
2 August 2010

Everyone experiences pressure which causes stress. Stress can be good or bad for you.

An architect would want to know how much stress, measured in pounds per square inch, is planned to be placed on a floor so he would know what materials to use in designing a building. If he used the wrong or inferior materials or not enough of a material the strain caused by too much stress could collapse the building.

A specific response by our body to a stimulus, as fear or pain that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organ is stress. This stress could cause physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension. Worry can cause stress. Excess stress can cause physical harm, such as heart attacks or strokes which could be fatal.

Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, worried, or even anxious. What is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another.

Years ago I remember using a pressure cooker being used very often in the preparation of the family meals. A little water was placed in the bottom of the pot that the food was to be cooked in. The interlocking cover was then secured making sure the rubber gasket was in proper position so it would create a good seal. A release value was placed on top on a specially designed outlet. The heated water inside this closed and secure environment created steam under pressure. This steam under pressure caused the toughest meat to shred and rock hard potatoes to become almost like mush in a rather short period of time.

The amount of pressure built up inside this pressure cooker could blow the cover off the pot and cause serious damage to the ceiling and any people around. Fortunately, this little release valve was designed to whistle as the pressure was building up. The center of the valve had a pot up with three rings on it. If all three rings were showing it mean the pressure needed to be safely reduced quickly. The way to relieve the pressure was to remove it from the hot burner and gently tap the valve with a fork or knife. If the cover where removed before the center pop up was hidden the cover could blow.

In the pressure cooker pressure was used to cause stress to the food which made it easier and safer to eat. However if the pressure was left unchecked it could have caused serious damage to people and things in the vicinity.

People react differently to stressful situations.

Some people bottle up their anger and frustration inside which causes a build up inside them much like the pressure cooker on the hot burner. They may look good on the outside, but they are being torn up on the inside. They need a safe release value.

Some people vent their anger and frustration upon people and things around them similar to the top of the pressure cooker being removed too early causing collateral damage. They need a safe release valve also.

Various symptoms of stress include Feeling irritable, Lack of sense of humor, Having emotional outbursts, Generally feeling upset, Finding it hard to make decisions, Feeling you can’t cope, lacking enough energy to get things done, Finding it very difficult to concentrate, Eating also when you are not hungry, Eating too excessive, Having marked mood swings, Negative self-talk, Thinking about negative things all the time, Having memory problems, Becoming easily confused, not able to concentrate, Feeling like being restless, Feeling dejected at having to wait for something, Low back pain, Muscle tension, Pains in shoulders or neck, Pains in chest, Stomach/abdominal pain, Muscle spasms or nervous tics, Unexplained rashes or skin irritations, Holding breath, Shortness of breath, Unable to sleep or excessive sleep, Diarrhea, indigestion and ‘the gurgles’, ‘Butterflies’ in stomach, Sweating when not physically active, Sweaty palms and ‘Pounding’ or ‘racing’ heart.

There are medications that a doctor can prescribe to help with the symptoms of stress. As with most medications, there can be serious side effects that should be brought to notice and reported immediately to your health care provider, as well as less serious side effects that usually do not require medical attention during the normal treatment. Even if the symptoms are minor or do not have any long impact they should be brought to your health care provider’s attention as soon as possible. There should be a right amount or proportion of what ever you take and balance in your activities. This not only helps to lead a healthier life but also a very safe one. You should always consult a doctor or physician before taking any necessary actions and remember always that prevention is better than cure.

Everyone has a safe release valve.

In this case an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is better to address the cause rather than treat the symptom.

One healthy and inexpensive way to prevent a build up of stress and relieve stress is walking. A half hour to an hour a day walk, at a good pace, will relieve stress, give you a healthy appetite help reduce weight and help you sleep better. Your body, mind, bank account, and the people around you will thank you for walking regularly.

https://preacher01704.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/your-release-valve/

Imitate These Things Not Those

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Not everything in church culture is good for us. How can we tell the difference between authentic discipleship and unholy peer pressure?

Katie had a solid Christian pedigree. She’d grown up in the church, committed her life to Jesus at youth camp, attended a Christian college, and married Jeff, her college sweetheart, immediately after graduation. At the church they’d begun attending, the couple served as Sunday school teachers. Katie also made time in her busy schedule to volunteer with a ministry serving the homeless in their new community. Yet after nearly three years at their church, Katie told me she wondered if she’d ever fit in. “I’m still treated as an outsider by the other women, and it’s not because I’m a relative newcomer. It’s because I work full-time outside the home.” She explained that almost all the other women her age in the congregation were stay-at-home moms who homeschooled their children, and a few older women focused most of their attention on nurturing this group. Besides meeting during the day for Bible studies on how to be better wives and mothers, they often arranged informal play dates and field trips. Katie’s work schedule meant she and her young son couldn’t join them. But it wasn’t the lack of invitations from the other women that troubled her.

After nearly three years at their church, Katie told me she wondered if she’d ever fit in.

“When we first came to the church, Jeff and I knew that my job put me in the minority among the stay-at-home moms, but the pastor assured us it shouldn’t matter, as we were all seeking Jesus together. We appreciated his emphasis on discipleship. As the years have passed, however, I’m noticing that most of the women seem to be copying each other in terms of lifestyle, convictions, and calling. It feels more like a clique than a church,” Katie said sadly. She and Jeff were considering leaving the congregation.

Scripture portrays discipleship as the way in which a mature believer lives out faith in the everyday and ongoing companionship of a younger student. This maturity references age, experience, and faithfulness. It’s a description of the ongoing process of spiritual growth, not the arrival at some state of spiritual perfection (Deut. 6:4-9). The late Dallas Willard called this whole-life learning model apprenticeship, a word that is helpful in translating an ancient concept into our modern context.

Like my friend Katie, I’ve found that sometimes a Christianized form of peer pressure takes the place of true apprenticeship. If your church culture implies that all real believers end up looking, acting, voting, or talking the same, pay close attention. It’s possible you’re seeing peer pressure at work. And though it’s simply a more sophisticated version of what you may have experienced in middle school, the social push to conform to a group’s standards can be just as powerful. Some examples:

  • We tell new believers (or inquirers) that they need to learn to “act like a Christian” in order to fit in at church.
  • We subtly (or not so subtly) discourage young believers from pursuing careers in academia or the arts because those vocational paths are “too secular.”
  • We shun or shame people who, on a theological non-essential—such as politics—may not share the prevailing opinion of our congregation.

The challenge for the more mature in an apprenticeship relationship is to remember that learning happens in different ways at different stages of our spiritual development. There is a time and a season in our spiritual life for imitation. Just as young children parrot sounds and words as they’re learning to communicate for themselves, we learn how to walk with Jesus by patterning our lives after those who’ve gone before us. Imitation serves an instructional purpose.

Peer pressure has “fear of missing out” at its root, and not fitting into the group is viewed as a cardinal sin. If you sense everyone around you competing in an unspoken contest to conform to the group’s standards, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re noticing the effects of peer pressure. The imitation of godly women and men, on the other hand, teaches us essential patterns and practices while honoring individual calling and giftedness.

First-century rabbis would assess a potential apprentice via a long period of living and learning together: They would look for someone who had the capacity and desire to mold himself to be like his teacher. Author Doug Greenwold explained, “Throughout the Gospels, the phrase ‘follow me’ is a Jewish idiom used by the rabbis to mean, ‘Come and be with me as my disciple, and submit to my authoritative teaching.’” Jesus’ words “follow Me” mean far more than “join my team.” They are words that tell us He believes we will seek to pattern every aspect of our life after His.

However, His goal isn’t that we remain perpetual infants, repeating basic lessons over and over again as though we’re in an endlessly looping game of Simon Says. Instead, wanting us to move toward maturity, He empowers us to then apprentice others who will delight in imitating Him as we’re learning to do (Matt. 28:18-20). The writer of Hebrews expressed frustration with his readers’ seemingly plateaued spiritual growth: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12).

We see this pattern in action in Paul’s counsel to the church at Corinth. He urges the young church to imitate him while learning to navigate their lives as immature followers of Jesus: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). However, in the personal greetings he uses to conclude the first letter to the Corinthians—those words we tend to zip past because they seem like personal bits of housekeeping—we see how Paul celebrates the diversity of gifts and ministries among those who’ve been mature leaders among those believers.

He asks the Christians in Corinth to treat his protégé Timothy with respect, because though a different person than Paul, the younger man was carrying on a similar, complementary ministry to the apostle’s (1 Corinthians 16:10-11). Without denigrating Apollos, Paul noted that this co-laborer in Christ didn’t initially want to visit the church but then reconsidered—a recognition that Apollos was his own man, with his own mind and faith (1 Corinthians 16:12). Paul then offers a shout-out to Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. Their ministry to him came in the form of practical financial assistance (1 Corinthians 16:15-18). Finally, he mentions mature church leaders Priscilla and Aquila, who led a congregation in their home, apprenticing young believers in the faith (1 Corinthians 16:19Acts 18:24-26).

The pattern of follow-the-leader was formalized in the early decades of the church. The Didache, a document that dates from perhaps as early as A.D. 100, is an example of an early catechism—a set of questions and answers new believers had to learn or memorize as part of their membership process in the local congregation. The Didache and eventually other forms of catechesis were Discipleship 101 for the early church, focusing on both the essential teachings of Jesus and the baseline practices of corporate confession, communion, and the authority structure God has ordained for life together. Young Christians learned to follow Jesus by following their leaders.

However, imitation should never result in uniformity. Musician Steve Taylor’s 1983 satirical song entitled “I Want to Be a Clone” named the fear driving Christian peer pressure: “They told me that I’d fall away / unless I followed what they say.” Aping the beliefs and behaviors of the influencers in their church may seem to promise a sort of spiritual insurance policy that will seal their salvation—or at least their place in the group. But a life shaped by a healthy fear of God will produce very different fruit than one shaped by fear of being excluded by the in-crowd. Fear of God offers us freedom. Fear of others enslaves.

A better “discipleship program” will not fix this problem, because it runs as deep in each one of us as our fear of being abandoned or left behind. That unexposed, un-discipled fear leaves us vulnerable to peer pressure whether we’re a young Christian or a seasoned leader. As my friend Katie and her husband assessed their experience at the church, they asked God first to reveal their own fears of being left out or forgotten, and then to confirm that they were being obedient in the ways their family was serving Him through work, parenting, and lifestyle decisions.

Jeff and Katie were asking good questions. Those questions led to them seeking the prayer and counsel of other mature believers—their pastor, a friend at church, and other friends in their social network, including my husband and me. The process clarified for them their own calling at this stage of their lives. It also helped them to better recognize the unhealthy peer-dependent dynamics among many of the young families at church. Instead of feeling excluded or judged by them, Katie told me she found new compassion for them. They decided to stay and brought their concerns to the pastor, who told them he was noticing the same issues as they were.

J. Oswald Sanders said, “No living thing comes to maturity instantaneously. In the attainment of intellectual maturity, there is no alternative to the student painfully working through the prescribed courses. Nor is it any different in the spiritual life. Growth toward spiritual maturity will of necessity involve moral effort, discipline, renunciation, and perseverance in pursuit of the goal. There are no shortcuts.”

Christian peer pressure is a counterproductive shortcut. And recognizing it for what it is becomes a powerful step in an apprentice’s journey toward maturity.

Illustrations by Jack Richardson

https://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/features/imitate-these-things-not-those