This message will be different because my attempt will not be to teach or exegete and preach a single passage of Scripture. Instead, my goal is to share reflections with you – my congregation – about both my recent Sabbatical experience as well as weaved connections about the Advent season.
At the end of the message I would like to be open for questions and comments from the body of Christ.
Sabbath and Advent Reflections
After five plus years of pastoral ministry at SPBC, the church gifted me with a month long sabbatical. I and my family are grateful for the extended time together we were able to spend with each other. Below are some reflections that I would like to share with you, in hopes that you may be encouraged and perhaps learn insights for your own spiritual development.
- We are human and need God more than we realize.
During my sabbatical I had plans to rest, spend time with family and do some personal reading. I also wanted (needed) to do some academic reading and writing. I intentionally planned to be at home the first week to allow for me to unwind and to keep our family’s regular routines so they could somewhat work ahead for homeschooling in lieu of our upcoming travel plans. In my head I had expectations of a timeline for what I would do and accomplish in the month. However, after the first week off I began to realize my expectations may not be met. I was tired. I am human.During the days of the first week I found myself taking naps in the afternoon. I know that may sound lazy but generally that is not my routine. I kept my normal schedule of awaking around seven in the morning and getting involved in various tasks around the house. I helped my wife teach home-school to our children. I read and taught a few of their Bible classes. I struggled teaching math concepts to one of my young daughters who is both quirky and inquisitive. I helped my wife with routine chores of cleaning, preparing meals and loading dishes and laundry. I was also able to read Kevin DeYoung’s book Crazy Busy for personal devotion and Sabbath preparation. Overall, I just took needed time to relax away from a regular work week.What I think I am learning from this is that I am in charge of my pace of life. Our pace does not have to be at frantic speed in order to be viewed as successful or even faithful to our priorities. Kevin DeYoung says, “the problem is not just with our schedules or with the world’s complexity – something is not right with us. The chaos is at least partly self-created. The disorder of daily life is a product of disorder in the innermost places of the heart. Things are not the way they ought to be because we are not the way we are supposed to be. Which means our understanding of busyness must start with the one sin that begets so many of other sins: pride” (original italics).I’m convicted. I struggle with filling my days with activity for the sake of approval at the end of each day, week, and year. Yet, my identity is not determined by what I do but what Jesus did in spite of what I accomplish or ever fail to achieve. Too often I fail to rest – to Sabbath – in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I forget the source of my strength and allow pride to take root and reign on the throne of my heart. I am human and in daily need of the Savior’s proclamation that I am loved despite anything about me and I am forgiven despite everything about me.
Jesus once told His disciples, “’Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure to even eat” (Mark 6:31). The principle is to come away with Jesus or to come apart from busyness. One of my goals (there I go again) is to more thoughtfully allow for Sabbath rest as part of my busy routine: to divert daily, withdraw weekly, and respite regularly. To remember who Jesus is, who I am, and who I am not.
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Mary asked, “How will this be?” and the response was “nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:34-38)
à When I read the Christmas story I am impressed with Joseph and Mary. Joseph was just a man and Mary was just a woman, both were human. They had ordinary dreams of being married and starting their life together, eventually after some time to have children. Yet, God had other plans. This young couple would have a child simultaneously with their wedding experience. In it all, they had to submit their inadequacies to God’s abilities. I cannot help but wonder if Joseph and Mary were not walking with God, would they have responded with the faith and action they did? Would Joseph leave Mary dejected and deprived of resources? Would Mary abort or abandon the child? The answer is found in the accurate self-assessment Joseph and Mary had of themselves and their active faith to respond with the purpose God had for their life.
à Likewise, we must be reminded in our daily lives, in circumstances, and in overwhelming seasons of our life that we are human in constant need of Sabbath reliance upon God. If we fail to make space and create margin to be with God then we too will miss God’s blessings for our lives.
- Play can be powerful tool for both community and mission.
The past month has been irreplaceable time with my family. We waded in the Atlantic Ocean in mid-November. We ate Thrashers French fries and Dumser’s ice cream. We traveled through nine states from Maryland and Delaware and out toward Iowa. Our backs, necks, and bottoms are out of whack from spending too much time in the car.One weekend Danielle was able to spend time with her sister at a weekend conference retreat. That same weekend meant I survived watching all four of my children alone. In fact, I took the girls to see my mother in the hospital after she had a hip replacement. I know it meant a lot to her and gave her encouragement to focus on her physical therapy in order to get out of the hospital.In all, my wife and I have consumed way too much caffeine to keep us awake for all our driving. Yet, spending time together with our immediate and extended family, and some close friends, has been a blessing and season of refreshment. For some reason, the expression, “Work hard. Play hard.” now has new meaning to me. I’m not sure I appreciated the phrase before but perhaps am gaining some renewed understanding to its meaning. Playing with others, whether with children or peers, provides meaningful relational bonds that are not always established through work. I do not have any specific spiritual principle or biblical basis for this reality. Yet, I am finding the reality to be present in relationships with my immediate family and even with friendships in hindsight.When we play, our guard is down and generally we are ourselves. We laugh and linger with thoughts that normally we wouldn’t slow down enough to think at other times. We tell stories and share revealing aspects of our belief system. In the aspect of play we catch a glimpse of Eden, for how God designed human relationships to love and serve one another. Admittedly, our play is tainted by a sin-stained world. However, the overarching point I am making is that our play is not wasted down time but can be redeemed in powerful ways.When we realize the role of play can be redeemed and can use it for strengthening relationships and even faith. We can learn about each other’s personality and human tendencies to establish trust. Bonds through competition and camaraderie are cultivated for companionship and love for one another. A sense of hope and faith undergird the purposes of our play for glory – of God and not just our own. In all, play reminds you to value people for who they are and not just for what they can do.- – –
“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord… And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.” (Luke 1:39-45, 56)
Mary and Elizabeth were relatives (Luke 1:36) and likely had a close relationship since Mary spent three months with her (Luke 1:56). When Mary arrived at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house there was a warm greeting and a joyful fellowship between the two pregnant ladies. I can only imagine the playful conversations between these ladies.
– Mary to Elizabeth: “Girl, who would have thought old Zechariah still had it in him?”
– Elizabeth to Mary: “Girl, your new husband Joseph will be going crazy your first year of marriage.”
Seriously, the greeting and length of time spent between these faithful women shows us the value of close relationships. I believe God used this bonding experience to shape these wives and mothers for the future of raising two of the most important men, to ever live and walk this earth.
à I believe our relationships, even those within the church, should have more room to play and not just work. The purpose would be so that our work and mission would become more effective to grow godly generations. Imagination is not only for children but also for creatively living out the church’s missional calling (On The Verge, 65). Can you envision how this may be possible? What if our Bible Groups spent time once a month rotating in each other’s home for a meal, maybe some board games and meaningful conversation? How could this cultivate community and create momentum for spiritual growth and mission through our church and neighborhoods? I am encouraging our SPBC family to consider the role of play as a means to purposeful mission.
- Partnership is more powerful than individualism.
The details of implementing a month long sabbatical meant simultaneous planning for three months in one. In October I not only worked in that month’s responsibilities but also was to account for what would happen in November and begin early planning for December. This timeline forced me to include and involve others in ministry roles that I could not serve on my own.Stepping out so others can step up can be a healthy action for the body of Christ, or any organization. Sometimes people can feel stalled in their ability to serve because they see others who are already fulfilling certain roles and so they choose to sit back. Hopefully, my sabbatical gave many in our church the reminder that we all are gifted and called to serve. There are lots of ways for individuals to step up and get involved in meaningful roles of leadership and service at SPBC.The most visible places of service were the Sunday preaching and teaching. I want to thank Dr. Joel Rainey, Rev. Maurice Morgan, Pastor Zach, and Ron Chambless for their willingness to preach God’s word on the given Sundays. I am also thankful for Keith Benning, Sam Dutton, Darrin Benning, Argenis Delacruz, and Pastor Zach for facilitating the weekly Bible Group that I lead during November. Countless others filled in to lead and serve in numerous ways such as planning, leading meetings, visiting hospitals, making decisions, and providing overall leadership: Kera Day, our Deacons, Jennifer D’Avino, among many others. Not to mention, SPBC has individuals who weekly and regularly serve both inside the church (teachers, greeters, nursery workers, a/v, all our ministry teams, etc.) and beyond the church (OCC, The Well, neighborhood outreach, etc.). I look forward to hear and see how God will use the insights and opportunities learned by the members of SPBC from their gift of a sabbatical for the good of 2016 and beyond.
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“And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39-40)- An innkeeper
– The shepherds
– Myriads of angels
– An man named Simeon
– An elderly lady named AnnaGod used all these and a cast of other characters to cultivate the necessary circumstances for Jesus to be born, mature, and launch His public ministry. God is still in the business of using the variety of people with diverse backgrounds for His glory; this is the church.
à I encourage each member of SPBC to ask, “Am I sitting on the grace, gifts, and talents to being a good steward of the resources God has provided to me?”
à For me, I am committed to continuing “equipping the saints” (Ephesians 4:12). My goal in leadership is never to dump tasks but to truly delegate by developing gifts and talents of others and deploying them into service. There are several ideas I have on this from teachings and training opportunities, but mostly I believe we are sustained by a laser focus on our purpose of making disciples and the vision to grow godly generations. My prayer and passion is to be relentless in declaring and displaying this vision for us as a body. Please continue praying and participating to see how God can use each of us at SPBC to glorify Himself.
- SPBC gratefulness.
A concluding reflection I have from my sabbatical is that I am humbled to be a member and pastor at SPBC. What kind of church encourages their pastor to take a month of vacation – paid – to just relax, rest, and renew? What kind of church takes the last Sunday their Pastor will be with them to end the worship service by praying for him, his wife and family to have a blessed and refreshing time away? What kind of church members and church staff volunteer to take on extra responsibility and work to serve their pastor so he can go away on a month sabbatical? What kind of church members sends their pastor notes of encouragement and prayers, and even gift cards? What kind of church celebrates the sabbatical return of their pastor with a group of children’s handwritten notes of how much they missed their pastor, and many other warm embraces?
Severna Park Baptist Church is far from a perfect church. We have areas of weakness and challenge like most every other church. There are needs and opportunities that are going unmet for a variety of reasons. I believe God has so much for SPBC to be and do because He is worth all the glory and grit that we can muster to give. In all, SPBC has a growing sense of love and generosity that comes from a people who are grasping the depth of grace that has been lavished upon them from our gracious Heavenly Father.
I am blessed not just to be a pastor at SPBC but to be a member. God is weaving the relational connections of each member of my family into this church. My wife has several friendships and a few genuinely close bonds with other women in the church that is not always normal for pastor wives to experience. So, I’m grateful for that along with the ways each of my daughters love their church family. I cannot tell you how many times my girls asked, “When can we go back to our church?” or “I miss seeing our church friends”. Before we left for extended travel for Thanksgiving we stopped at church to drop off OCC shoeboxes we packed for the relay center and our girls were so excited as they received attention and hugs from church members who were volunteering that day.
In all, our entire family is grateful to God for a loving church family and the gift of our month Sabbatical after five years of pastoral ministry. As we begin our seventh year together, we look forward to the ways God will continue to shepherd us in character, community, and missional calling.
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“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
à God is calling us all to a peace and a Sabbath in our hearts, and not just as individuals but as one body. When we gather in the word and in worship, we express thankfulness to God and we toil in word and deed all for the glory of the Lord Jesus.
à Invitation to each to experience faith and family in God.
- If you are missing peace, God is calling you to pause and reflect about the meaning of Christmas. Your pace does not have to be at frantic speed in order to be viewed as successful or even faithful to your priorities. Sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up. The Advent season is an opportunity for you to slow down and refuel in order to launch into the new year. Ultimately, this comes by preparing room in your heart and life for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preparation begins with repentance of sin and then reliance upon the forgiving grace of God.
- If you find yourself more bitter & grumbling than grateful, God’s desire is for you to experience grace. Grace is something you cannot earn. Grace says: your identity is not determined by what you do but what Jesus did in spite of what you accomplish or ever fail to achieve. You are loved despite anything about you and are forgiven despite everything about you.
Here I Am To Worship