Title: Sabbatical Report
Text: Isaiah 55.1-13
Let me begin by saying hello! Long time no see! Thank you for the privilege of taking time to rest with my wife. I know many of you carried a heavier load because of my absence. KK, Wendy, Lyle for teaching my class, elders. Thank you all for blessing me. All the cards of encouragement; there were a couple of texts – nothing involving the church or church matters, but just a “hey, miss you, praying for you.”
It was a great time to get away. We lived up North before we moved here and it was nice experiencing some of the seasonal changes. Did you know it cools off at night in the mountains?
Let me tell share with you the purpose I had set before the elders back in July. Prospectus was presented to the elders:
Purpose: The intended purpose of this sabbatical is rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry. This will involve a break from regular ministry activities and studies toward vision and purpose in ministry.
I set an agenda to concentrate my life around five separate areas:
Rest – I did. I took walks; I planned to take naps, but I think I only took two. I normally take a nap after every Sunday service. I found that not necessary anymore! I read a book entitled 24/6 – Did you know God says more about the Sabbath than any other of the 10 commandments? The Sabbath is for healing, restoration, to help other people. Christians, however, have profaned the Sabbath rest. Did you know that service industry people don’t like working on Sunday afternoons because Christians are the worst customers? They’re the most demanding, the rudest and the worst tippers. Now I’ve only known a handful of service industry people. But that’s what I’ve heard from them. What if we were to change that? What if we believers started presenting a better witness to the community? What we became not so demanding and what if we tipped better than the Friday and Saturday night crowds? What if we tipped 100% of our bill for that single mother waitress working her 2nd job? What if the service industry desired to work Sunday afternoon the most? What if we just decided not to go out to lunch after church if we couldn’t tip 100% of the bill? What about 50%? If we did that, we’d be more in line with what the Sabbath was intended for… Just a thought? We’ll come back to that in the coming weeks. I’ve got an idea: Sunday School teachers – make this a question to ponder amongst your students.
A 2nd area covered on my agenda was:
– I met with a counselor from Focus on the Family.
– I met with some pastors and interviewed them.
– I read through the Bible with Lisa each evening. I had a separate time of reading each morning and was able to read through the NT and much of the OT a 2nd time. Angela asked me to describe what it was like in one word. I said: refreshing. I asked Lisa the same question and she said: clarifying.
– I wanted to find some good books to help me do this. I did. I read some part or all of 23 books.
– I also did some physical therapy for my mind and my shoulder. I swam laps, which is good non-weight bearing therapy, as well as helps with the range of motion. The hikes up into the mountains were my delight. I love hiking in the wilderness. I found old, abandon mines; equipment; abandon cabins
Reflection – It was amazing that God took me back over time and brought back to remembrance some things I haven’t thought about in years. Moments, I guess, that were crossroads for me. I found pivotal moments for me where I made decisions that affected my life. And so I asked the LORD why? Why did I have to relive those? And, I think God was leading me to a place where I asked Him to help me not make foolish decisions or choose 2nd best. Instead, I want to be wise and follow God, trust God to take me down the best road. I want to look back over the next 25 years and not have a single regret!
Retool – I’ve thought of this part of the sabbatical as not necessarily making huge changes – getting new tools, but rather to sharpen and hone the tools God has given me. Ecclesiastes 10.10 states: If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success. (NASB)
- I attended the T4G conference on Evangelism via the internet. That was cool. It inspired me to read,
- Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by JI Packer. That was one book that helped me.
- Another was the inspiration classic The Call of the Committed by Elton Trueblood. Wow! Timeless. Lisa and I read that together.
- Preaching and Preachers by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones was another classic that inspired me.
- Probably the most beneficial book for me was The Vine and the Trellis, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. This book probably fits better under the 5th area: refocus.
Refocus – There are some principles in this book that convicted me from Scripture about what discipleship really is and what it isn’t! I have an idea of the direction I’d like to move in the area of discipleship – namely, more relationship interaction in a one on one environment. I have some ideas I’ve outlined that I’ll present to the elders for their interaction and probably begin implementation of this idea after the New Year. Again, I’ll visit with the elders about the logistics. You probably already have questions. This isn’t the forum to answer those questions. Like I said, I’ll iron out the details with the elders and present all of the information when it’s appropriate. Let me just say, Discipleship is an area of focus for me.
Besides a focus shift on Discipleship, God moved my heart in the area of Prayer. I think my prayer life has suffered over the past 9 years. I’ve always felt it was important, and yet, I allowed less and less time for it. That has changed. I spend about an hour in prayer each morning, with my prayer book and journal. I wonder if my theology has hurt my prayer life? I think so… Sometimes I grow weary in my prayers. My collarbone has been broken for 5 months. I’ve been praying for healing for 5 months. God is sovereign. He can do whatever He wants. I can’t make him. God just did a number on my prayer life. Added to this, I’d like to place a greater emphasis on prayer in our church: as individuals, but in groups also. I’ve a couple of ideas I’d like to work out with the elders and sometime after the New Year, you should see and hear more about prayer.
Discipleship, Prayer & Finally, the Word of God…
Open your copy of God’s Word to the 55th chapter of Isaiah. There were two passages that God kept taking me back to over and over again. This is one of them. The other was Psalm 65. This passage is very popular – you’ve probably heard it preached or taught or even quoted from time to time. That is, the 1st part is: follow with me:
It begins with an Invitation and there are 4 commands to emphasize the invitation: Come, Listen, Behold, Seek! Within these 4 commands are three attributes of God. The 1st attribute is seen in v 1-5 where we see…
- The Call to Come and Experience the Wealth of God:
Exp.: The Cost is Free – The price for participation has been paid in full! Why waste your money on things that don’t satisfy? What you can buy with your money will never be enough! It will never satisfy! Your money is your good works. They’re nice, but they won’t get you anything from God! But God invites you in to his supermarket and offers you to buy without money, to purchase his goods at no price.
The Covenant is Universal – it’s not just for Israel. Rd v 4-5; The diehard Israelite would have none of it –
Ill.: Read Luke 4.16-29; But Isaiah is here saying that God’s Covenant is for Everyone (v1) including us Gentiles!
Transition: you’ve probably heard the 2nd part taught, too. I call this section…
- The Urgency to Respond to the Ways of God
Exp.: rd v 6; Time is of the essence, it is Urgent – Seek – while there is still time! While He may be found by you! And Isaiah doesn’t leave the hearers hanging, he tells them just what to do:
– How? – repent! Rd v 7; forsake and return, that you may find his compassion and find his forgiveness. A pardon is needed that you might miss the punishment.
– Why? – rd v 8-9;
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Ill.: in the home we stayed in there was a magnet on the fridge that said: shoot for the moon, that way if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. Ah… Well, truth is, you can’t touch the moon. It’s impossible. In reality, that is. But that’s the difference between your ways and thoughts, as compared to His. Yours just doesn’t compare. Mine either.
Transition: your wealth can’t compete with his, you’re ways can’t even compare to his and finally, in this final section we see
- The Effective Power of the Word of God.
Exp.: Rd v 10-12; Now, that’s a celebration! When you come at his invitation, when you drink from the living water, when you taste and see that the Lord is good, when you buy, free of charge what He’s selling, When You take Him at his Word – then, you’ll be satisfied, you’ll go out in joy and be led forth in peace. Finally, Rd v 13;
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
Remember the context: snow and rain water the earth and bring forth plants. You’d expect a thorn bush in your back yard to be watered by the snow and the rain and produce a larger thorn bush. But not with the purpose of God’s Word – uh-uh, the water here, as expressed in the snow and the rain, as described back in v 1 in the invitation to come and drink of, it transforms a thorny bush into a Cypress Tree! Instead of the brier patch, the Word of God transforms it into a Myrtle Tree. It doesn’t just nourish the plant – it changes the plant!
That’s the transforming power of the Word of God. Mean people become nice. Filthy conversation becomes clean. Hard hearts get softened. Closed minds are opened. Haters become lovers. Those once who couldn’t care less become concerned for the needs of others. The lustful become loving and pure. The selfish become servants. The Angry lose their anger. The bitter become sweet. The captive are released and set free – free from anxiety and other chains that used to hold them down.
The Blind really do see and the deaf really do hear because what was veiled off to them is revealed and what was a clanging, aggravating noise has become music to their heart’s ears!
That’s the transforming power of God’s Word. And that’s my vision for our future. The power of God at work in your heart, in my heart and the hearts of people we come in contact with:
Let’s pray… that invitation is for you.