Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The End and The Beginning

Well, today is the last day of my sabbatical, and it has truly been one of the greatest blessings of my ministry. I am so thankful that I have had the opportunity to have this kind of time for professional and personal development. While there is a part of me that is sad to see it end, I am really looking forward to getting back to the church!

As I return, I have decided that I am going to continue to maintain this blog, using it as a place to continue to share experiences and insights. I have also turned on the "Comments" feature of the blog, which allows people to respond to what they read. I look forward to this interaction! I know there are some pastors who put blog entries in just about every day. Don't know if that will be me (certainly hasn't been to this point) but I do plan on contributing on a regular basis.

God bless!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

November 4 - Boldness

I spent all morning yesterday working on my sermon for my first Sunday back. In keeping with the idea of "Living as a Regular Christian," I am examining the idea of boldness. This emerged out of my study of Acts 3-4:31. I was drawn to this text initially by the observation of the Sanhedrin that Peter and John were "ordinary men". Yet again and again in the text we hear of their boldness, and that boldness makes a huge impact. Why were they bold? How did their boldness translate into a witness? What challenges our boldness? What gives us confidence in the name of Christ? These are a few of the questions that emerged out of my wrestling with the text. During these last two months, there have been several points where I have encountered some of these same questions.

I have been rereading a textbook of mine from seminary, "The Witness of Preaching" by Thomas Long. In his book, Long encourages pastors to develop a focus statement and a function statement for their sermons to insure that there is unity and coherence in their sermon. Here are the focus and function statements that I came up with for this sermon.

Focus: The early believers were confident in the power of the resurrected Lord, and thus were able to be an effective witness.

Function: Establish a foundation of confidence in the name of Christ from which we can together move forward.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Some of My Notes

One of the greatest things that has come out of this sabbatical has been the time for study and the insights I have gotten out of that. I thought I would share some of my study notes from the last couple of months. Some of these ideas I will be developing into my first two sermons in November.

Time is not the encumberance. It is space that encumbers time. When we say, “There is not enough time”, it is usually a complaint about the things to do, not the time itself. Interesting, then, that honoring Sabbath becomes the time to refrain from “our own interests” – those things which we give that time to. Do we operate from a Psalm 96 mindset or a mindset that the world will come to an end?

The word I keep seeing is “faith”. My personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ is important for me because it has implications not only for my soul but for my physical body, mental health and emotional stability. It also defines my professional identity and responsibility. “The Jesus in me loves the Jesus in you.” I must know the Jesus in me in order to help others find (and for me to find) the Jesus in them. I must be willing to stand out of the way and let Jesus be lifted up. This happens only when I am strong in the Jesus in me through the presence of His Holy Spirit and allow that to guide my thoughts and deeds. Rest from work becomes setting free the Jesus in me.

I keep hearing the idea of changing attitude. We so often do not want to let go of the pleasures of the flesh. However, it is the stubbornness that ultimately keeps us at a distance from God. In order to let go, we must begin by reorienting our heart and mind to Christ. Once the attitude is dealt with, once the soul is in line with Christ, it will want the rest of us to join with it. Committing to a Sabbath time and honoring it as one honors a marriage can reorient our attitude by establishing that there is nothing more important than our time with God.

The church gives me the time and the task to enter into Scripture on their behalf and bring back a word of truth. This is not just about speaking to culturally relevant issues; this is about helping people find the power of God today and the promise of God for tomorrow. That I get to be involved in this work is indeed an honor, and one I should not take lightly. I must also remember that I operate on behalf of God as well as the church. “Response” is not the end – response may happen much later. Help people hear the truth of God, and God’s Holy Spirit will do the work that brings a response.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Some of My Thoughts

As my sabbatical begins to draw to a close, there are several thoughts that I have been developing that I thought I would share.

One of the things I have observed in other churches I have visited and checked out on the web is that a lot of pastors are "preaching in blocks": allowing a theme to guide several weeks of preaching. I kind of thought this was a good idea and have been doing some work along those lines. Already a couple of ideas have emerged. When I come back, I have been asked to talk about my sabbatical experience. I am going to do this in a series of sermons (don't yet know exactly how many) entitled "Life as a Regular Christian". I have been working a lot this week on an idea inspired by an article in "Reformed Worship". The series is for Advent, and I think I will call it "The Family of God". It will look at some of the people listed in Jesus' geneology in Matthew 1. By studying these members of Jesus' family, maybe we can find our own place in His family. There are a couple of other ideas that are still in the early phases.

Another idea that was inspired in me just this morning had to do with prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. I wonder if prayer meeting should become more about just that: prayer. Learning to pray. Praying for one another, our community, our world. Praying to talk to and listen to God. Praying in awe and wonder of our Creator. I enjoy doing the Bible studies on Wednesday nights, but maybe there needs to be more time spent in conversation with God. I don't know, but I would like to talk about it.

One of the big things, as I mentioned before I left, is the use of my time. One of the things I have come to realize is that part of the "burnout" that I was fighting against before I left came from the fact that there were too many occasions over the last few years where I was spending too much time doing things that were not what God called me to do. I want to serve God and serve the church and be an instrument through which God can make a difference in a person's life. In order to accomplish these things, I have begun to think about how I can best use the time and space God has given to me. People may notice some changes when I get back (at least I hope they do!) and I hope these changes will help me be who God has called me to be.

Someone may be reading this and asking: "What kind of changes?" Well, some of the changes I have been thinking about include:
1) Spending some more time with folks one-on-one, outside of the church.
2) Letting my office become more of a study, a place where I can prepare and pray. Dave Baker once gave me an article that talked about how the pastor's office should be a "garden" into which the pastor can enter to meet and talk to God. That's kind of what I am thinking.
3) Responding to issues and crises from a kingdom perspective. Asking the question, "What here is important from the perspective of God's kingdom and His call?"

I hope that I can engage with the church about these and other changes so that we can all discern what it is that God intends for each of us. I am really looking forward to coming back!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Very Tiny Slug

I thought I would share this story that Justin wrote this past week. When Amy read it, she pointed out to him that it reminded her of the story of the Good Samaritan. So we sat down together and read the Good Samaritan story as a family and talked about its meaning for us today. What a neat opportunity.

"The Very Tiny Slug"
Once upon a time in a far off land lived a very tiny slug. He had no friends because nobody liked him. Everyone said, "You're too tiny for us. We want someone our own size." Later one day another slug was crawling and he saw the other slug sitting very sadly. The slug came up to him and asked, "Why are you so sad?" asked the slug. "I have no friends," he said. "I'll be your friend," said the other slug. "Thank you," said the slug. And they lived happily every after.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Learning to Fly

Amy and I got away this past weekend for some much-needed time for just the two of us. We went to the Outer Banks of NC. While we were there, we visited the Wright Brothers' Memorial at Kitty Hawk. This was my first trip to the memorial, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. A couple of observations that I left with:

1) In recent weeks, I have found myself watching birds flying the air. I am enamored with this ability - the ability of flight. It probably goes back to my childhood fascination with comic books and super heroes. Anyway, I commented to Amy when we left the exhibit at Kitty Hawk how our experience of flying is so totally different from what the Wright Brothers experienced. When we get on a plane, there is little difference between riding on a plane and riding on a bus or a train (yes, except for a few thousand feet of elevation). Orvill and Wilbur, however, experienced flight out in the open elements. I am certainly thankful for progress, but there is a part of me that would love to have experienced flight as the Wrights did.

2) The Wright Brothers did not enjoy success until they proved wrong two commonly held assumptions about design. Only then were they able to get off the ground. As I read about that, I found myself saying, "There is a sermon in that somewhere." Still don't entirely know where it is yet, but the hypothesis I am working on at this point is as follows: Sometimes it is what we take for granted that keeps us from reaching the heights God has in store for us.

3) Do you know how long man's first flight lasted? 12 seconds, travelling 120 feet into a 35mph headwind. When I saw the markers, my first thought was, "Wow, that is not so impressive." However, as we began to walk along their flightpath, taking in the immensity of meaning and achievement of that 120 feet, I realized that the first 40 yards gave them the courage to try again - and go a little farther. Their fourth flight - 59 seconds, about 800 feet. Mankind kept going from there.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Poem - "Out of the Wind"

My skin tingles at the breath of God
I breathe deeply, and my inner body becomes cool.
I shiver.

I can feel the hair on my legs.
God's breath carries the sounds of a far off land.
I rest.

God's breath stops, has it left?
No, there is a slight sensation of movement.
I am happy.

Breathe on me, breath of God.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A New Experience

Yesterday was a first for me. I was invited to preach the sermon at the Sunday morning worship service at Iglesia de la Comunidad, a Hispanic Baptist church in Burlington. It was a first in the sense of it was the first time I ever preached with a translator. This experience brought a whole new process of thought to sermon preparation and to sermon delivery that I am not sure I ever got completely comfortable with. However, the congregation was very gracious and patient, and I hope that maybe some of my words are able to be used.

At the close of the service, the church celebrated communion. This was the first time in the 1+ year history of the church that they celebrated communion. They asked us if we had any music that they could play in the CD player while communion was served. Amy went out to the car and the only thing she could find was a CD with Chris Tomlin's "Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone" on it. They started the CD while the bread and cup were being passed out. We ate the bread, and then the minister instructed us to drink the cup. As the juice touched our lips, these were the words coming through on the CD player.

"My chains are gone,
I've been set free.
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood,
His mercy rains
Unending love, amazing grace."

After all had partaken of communion, we took time to go around and share the love of Christ with one another. Complete strangers came and hugged me and Amy and shared a blessing with us. People really acted like they had been set free.