Wednesday, June 12, 2013

on sabbatical

"For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard."  (Leviticus 25:3-4 ESV)

After twelve years of full-time ministry at our church I am taking a sabbatical for two months. 

So, what is a pastoral sabbatical?  And why would a full-time minister need a sabbatical? More importantly, why doesn't everyone get to take a sabbatical? (I don't have a good answer for that last question, sorry.)

A sabbatical is a season of rest.  On the seventh day of creation, God ceased, or completed, his work of creation (Gen 2:2, 3).  This, of course, was not a complete cessation of all activity on his part (John 5:16-17). Since he is Creator, and not a creature, he doesn't have limitations, and hence no real need to rest. He did this as an example for us, as he moved from his work of creation to his work of providence.  This rest, or cessation, followed his contemplation of the work: "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." (Gen 1:31) God's people in their sabbaths, too, were also to reflect and "remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." (Deut. 5:15)  So a sabbath is a time of rest plus refection (contemplation of God's works). 

I wouldn't say ministers are necessarily overworked but there is a fatigue that sets in from being continuously plugged in to the church, with all her ministries, needs, crises, and problems. Certainly there are joys and victories, but for some reason the glow of those winning moments don't seem to last as long as the other moments.

For me, at least, full-time ministry is a pretty open-ended thing that you never really disconnect from.  It's not a 9-to-5 job.  In practicality you are available... whether daytime or in the evening. I accept that as part of serving the Lord's people for his sake.  But in time you can become over-extended and drained.

Vacations help, but there is a natural rhythm that ministers often miss out on.  Others can work at a job and then unplug and go away for the weekend.  In pastoral ministry, you are on duty most weeks and weekends... you really don't get away much, or unplug for any length of time.  I find I'm continuously thinking about what needs to be done, or more often, what didn't get done. 

Here Bob Thune gives five reasons for pastoral sabbaticals. (Good article.)

Pastoral sabbaticals are usually given after five to seven years of service, and can range from 2 to 6 months. Unlike academic sabbaticals, these don't necessarily focus on more education, research, or writing. For the pastor the main question is, what does this servant of God need in order to have a renewed zeal, effectiveness in service, and continued fruitfulness? This may involve education, research, and writing, but it may involve more simple things like rest, change of pace, exercise, learning something new, reading, travel, etc.

Physical rest and spiritual renewal seem most important to me at this time.  People with regular jobs can do their jobs no matter their spiritual condition. A person can draw plans, do research, invent things, make sales, and engage in business, even when not spiritually healthy.  Some things can be done on auto-pilot.  But that really doesn't work for those ministering the gospel and its blessings to others. We need to pump water from a full well.  A sabbatical is when we give the well time to fill up again, especially with some fresh water. 

For me the eight weeks will include three dimensions, and here are some of my goals (I hope they are realistic and obtainable):

REST (physical).
--Disconnecting from regular church responsibilities.
--Unplugging from emails, facebook, and other social media.
--Adequate sleep and rest, and long conversations with my wife.
--Some family activities with children and grandchildren.
--Exercise, walking 2 miles a day; hopefully with some hiking, cycling.
--Some needed dietary changes. (Though I'm not thinking that is restful.)

REFRESHMENT in the Lord (spiritual).
--Bible reading (Luke)
--Reviewing Scripture memory
--Reading a number of books of interest
--Some long prayer walks
--A retreat at the The Cove with my wife

RENEWAL of vision, purpose, job (vocational).
--Reconnecting with ministry purpose and vision
--Evaluating past ministry effectiveness

--An online course with DTS
--Visiting some area churches on Sundays to appreciate their ministries and to pick up new ideas on doing church
--Asking key questions: what should be different about the next 5 to 10 years?  Areas of ministry to give up; new areas to take up?  Especially with Jim coming on staff, what areas should I focus on?  What's been good, what would I do differently?

I would appreciate your prayer about fulfilling these goals, and that the Lord would truly bring rest, refreshment, and renewal by his Holy Spirit.

You can read more about sabbaticals here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Heidelberg on the Lord's prayer

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) on the Lord’s Prayer petitions...

120. Why did Christ command us to address God thus: “Our Father?”
To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence for and trust in God, which are to be the ground of our prayer, namely, that God has become our Father through Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith than our parents refuse us earthly things.[1]
[1]Mt. 7:9-11; Lk. 11:11-13; *I Pet. 1:17; *Isa. 63:16.

121. Why is it added: “Who art in heaven?”
That we might have no earthly thought of the heavenly majesty of God,[1] and from His almighty power expect all things necessary for body and soul.[2]
[1]Jer. 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-25, 27. [2]Rom. 10:12; *I Kgs. 8:28; *Ps. 115:3.

122. What is the first petition?
“Hallowed be Thy name;” that is, grant us, first, rightly to know Thee, [1] and to hallow, magnify, and praise Thee in all Thy works, in which Thy power, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth shine forth;[2] and further, that we so order our whole life, our thoughts, words, and deeds, that Thy name may not be blasphemed, but honored and praised on our account.[3]
[1]Jn. 17:3; Mt. 16:17; Jas. 1:5; Ps. 119:105. [2] Ps. 119:137; Rom. 11:33-36. [3]Ps. 71:8; *Ps. 100:3-4; *Ps. 92:1-2; *Eph. 1:16-17; *Ps. 71:16.

123. What is the second petition?
“Thy kingdom come;” that is, so govern us by Thy Word and Spirit, that we submit ourselves to Thee always more and more;[1] preserve and increase Thy Church;[2] destroy the works of the devil, every power that exalts itself against Thee, and all wicked devices formed against Thy Holy Word,[3] until the fullness of Thy kingdom come,[4] wherein Thou shalt be all in all.[5]
[1]Ps. 119:5; 143:10. [2]Ps. 51:18; 122:6-7. [3]I Jn. 3:8; Rom. 16:20. [4]Rev. 22:17, 20; Rom. 8:22-23. [5]I Cor. 15:28; *Ps. 102:12-13; *Heb. 12:28; *Rev. 11:15; *I Cor. 15:24.

124. What is the third petition?
“Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven;” that is, grant that we and all men renounce our own will,[1] and without gainsaying obey Thy will, which alone is good;[2] so that every one may fulfill his office and calling as willingly and faithfully [3] as the angels do in heaven.[4]
[1]Mt. 16:24. [2]Lk. 22:42; Tit. 2:12. [3]I Cor. 7:24. [4]Ps. 103:20-21; *Rom. 12:2; *Heb. 13:21.

125. What is the fourth petition?
“Give us this day our daily bread;” that is, be pleased to provide for all our bodily need,[1] so that we may thereby acknowledge that Thou art the only fountain of all good,[2] and that without Thy blessing neither our care and labor, nor Thy gifts, can profit us;[3] that we may therefore withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it alone in Thee.[4]
[1]Ps. 104:27-28; 145:15-16; Mt. 6:25-26. [2]Acts 14:17; 17:27-28. [3]I Cor. 15:58; Deut. 8:3; Ps. 37:3-7, 16-17. [4]Ps. 55:22; 62:10; *Ps. 127:1-2; *Jer. 17:5, 7; *Ps. 146:2-3.

126. What is the fifth petition?
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;” that is, be pleased, for the sake of Christ's blood, not to impute to us miserable sinners our manifold transgressions, nor the evil which always cleaves to us;[1] as we also find this witness of Thy grace in us, that it is our full purpose heartily to forgive our neighbor.[2]
[1]Ps. 51:1-4; 143:2; I Jn. 2:1-2. [2]Mt. 6:14-15; Ps. 51:5-7; *Eph. 1:7.

127. What is the sixth petition?
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;” that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment,[1] and besides, our deadly enemies, the devil,[2] the world,[3] and our own flesh,[4] assail us without ceasing, be pleased to preserve and strengthen us by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may make firm stand against them and not be overcome in this spiritual warfare,[5] until finally complete victory is ours.[6]
[1]Jn. 15:5; Ps. 103:14-16. [2]I Pet. 5:8-9; Eph. 6:12-13. [3]Jn. 15:19. [4]Rom. 7:23; Gal. 5:17. [5]Mt. 26:41; Mk. 13:33. [6]I Thess. 3:13; 5:23-24; *II Cor. 12:7.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

before leaving home

In "40 Things Every Child Must Know Before Leaving Home" Ann Voskamp writes to her 16-year-old son as he prepares to leave for a mission trip in Indonesia.  Very moving.  

Here's an excerpt:  

The Bible’s true, son. Every infallible, sword-sharp, breathing word of it. Don’t let anyone ever rationalize one beautiful iota of it away. Love it because it’s your Life.

Be the kind of person who apologizes first because that’s the only way happiness can last.

And never forget that happiness is when His Word and your walk are in harmony. Never stop keeping company with Christ– and all the sinners, tax-collectors and cast-offs. Be an evangelist and use your words with your hands because your part of a Body and never stop loving God with all your heart, mind and soul, and loving others as yourself. Make that your creed.

It’s true, son: Be different and know everything you do matters. It’s what the Christ followers know: One man with God can change a culture. God didn’t put people in your path mostly for your convenience; He put you there for theirs. Loving the poor will make you rich, I promise.

Only when you offer yourself as bread, broken and given, to a hungry world, will you ever be satisfied.

The only life worth living is the one lost.

And believe that you are His beloved – it’s only when you trust He loves you that you really begin to live. Really, count a thousand blessings more, never stop. Why wouldn’t you want joy? Sing to no one and everyone on the front porch in the rain and laugh so much they question your sanity. Pet the dog long.

Because really, none of us knows how long we have. Remember that a pail with a pinhole loses as much as the pail pushed right over. A whole life can be lost in minutes wasted… in the small moments missed.

Do it often: grab a lifeline by stepping offline. You’ll see your true self when you look for your reflection in the eyes of souls not the glare of screens.

This is what you always need to know: You have nothing to prove to anyone – if you’re in Him, you are already approved.

Be okay with not being liked: life’s about altars not applause. And be okay with not being seen or heard. It’ll let you hear and see better.

on aging

A few quotes on the lighter side of growing older...

"When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it's a sure sign you're getting old."  (Mark Twain)

"Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen."  (Mark Twain)

"The trick is growing up without growing old."  (Casey Stengel)

"In youth we run into difficulties. In old age difficulties run into us." (Beverly Sills) 

"You can only be young once. But you can always be immature.” (Dave Barry)

"Your hand and your mouth agreed many years ago that, as far as chocolate is concerned, there is no need to involve your brain.”  (Dave Barry)

“It is a scientific fact that your body will not absorb cholesterol if you take it from someone else's plate.”   (Dave Barry)

"The simple truth is that balding African-American men look cool when they shave their heads, whereas balding white men look like giant thumbs."  (Dave Barry)

"I think being able to age gracefully is a very important talent. It is too late for me." (Clint Eastwood)