The Keeper and the Kept

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While on sabbatical my wife and I opted to visit the first church I ever served as pastor fresh out of seminary. I had only returned one time since we left in 1985. Nancy had never been back. On our road trip out west we traveled via Southern California for a spiritual blast from the past.

As one can imagine, lots of memories attended the visit. I only spent three short, illness-plagued years at Grace EV Free, but we engaged a lot of people and built some solid relationships. None of those connections proved stronger than the friendship made with Dave and Sheri. We stayed with them during our extended weekend. They showed us extraordinary kindness and hospitality. In the grace of God we simply picked up right where we left off with them. Our experience was at it always has been with them – saints in whom is all our delight (Psalm 16:3).

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That Sunday we accompanied them to the church. So much has changed! Three services now. A thousand people. A new facility. Nancy and I both remarked how much it reminded us of our OGC building. But none of that struck me as much as something else. As we walked toward the entrance, we met a man who served on the board during my pastorate. Jim wears his 90 years amazingly well. He shared about his current ministry – caring for his physically failing wife.

Then, after service, came Sonny and his son, Phillip. Sonny used to preach for me when chronic fatigue sidelined me in those difficult days back in the ‘80s. His son, who attends Dave and Sheri’s community group on Sunday evenings, has adopted his Dad’s love for and proficiency in the Scriptures. Others we heard about who had since gone home to their rewards.

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I found myself thinking about Jude 21 during the service – “Keep yourselves in God’s love.” It struck me as I reflected on our experience that these dear folks we reencountered had done that over the years, just as we have done. You can get that perspective over time when you have walked with Jesus for forty-plus years. The three disciplines contextually describing how to do this keeping in Jude 20 & 21 have been our experience. We have built ourselves up in our most holy faith. We have prayed in the Holy Spirit. We have waited and continue to wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us eternal life. Oddly enough, the lead worshipper used this Jude text for the service benediction. I have never heard anyone do that in all my years as a pastor. I have never used it. That will change in the future as I return to ministry from this sabbatical, Lord willing.

Another related reflection caused me to praise and worship God that first weekend of our extended break. Believers do keeping things like building, praying, and waiting because God’s people are a kept people. Like fixed bookends to our persevering lives in Jesus, Jude 1 and 24-25 frame the security of our lives – “To those who have been kept” and “To him who is able to keep you from falling and present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy, to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” Our keeping ourselves in the love of God is subordinate; God’s keeping us in Christ is ultimate. The kept enjoy the keeping of the Keeper as they keep themselves in the love of God.

My thanks to the keeping people of my first church for pointing us so plainly and thoroughly to our great Keeper at the outset of my sabbatical. May the kept of God never stop keeping themselves in the love of God.

The Flourishing Life

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It was a delight to climb back into the pulpit at OGC this morning after our sabbatical. To get to preach again, particularly on a passage in Psalm 92 that so thoroughly expresses my desires for this next season in my life and ministry, gave me great pleasure. If you care to, you can access the audio here.

I blew through the the eight takeaways at the conclusion of the message. Someone in the body asked me for them. Decided it would make for an easy blog post. Here they are:

  1. One, offer praise to God as the tenor of your life.
  2. Two, gather with God’s people on the “Sabbath” and more. Be a fixture in God’s church. No fellowshipping, no flourishing. Be a churchman and churchwoman.
  3. Three, reject the lie of our materialistic culture and its flourishing-only-for-a-brief-while ways and invest in life-long flourishing commitments that will serve you well to the end of your days.
  4. Four, beware the American retirement dream in terms of having earned endless days in front of the TV or on the golf course. Have a robust theology of leisure to be sure but believe in “rehirement” not retirement. My thanks to David Sims for that play on words.
  5. Five, treasure a church body with multiple generations not just a bunch of folks your own age.
  6. Six, if you are young, badger some old saint until they own you in a mentoring, discipling kind of way. If you are old like me, give yourself away. Invest in the next generation. Declare that he is your Rock to all who come.
  7. Seven, speak up and announce the praise of God when given the chance. Regularly testify to His faithfulness.
  8. Eight, pray this text for me and the rest of our elders as long as you are a part of OGC. I beg of you.

A Sabbath Rest

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After His apostles completed a particularly demanding season of ministry, Jesus prescribed the following: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Since my cancer hiatus in 2005, by God’s grace, I’ve continued to minister at OGC for another eight years now. Toward the end of 2013, after healthy discussion and diligent prayer, the elders agreed that the Lord would have me take a sabbatical in 2014. We discussed this as part of the agenda in our 2014 annual congregational meeting last February. Not everyone could attend that meeting so I chose to make this the subject of my weekly column in the enews some time ago. However I am finding that some still have questions about this so I am posting it as well on my blog. Since we plan to leave, Lord willing, in two weeks time, the review may be helpful whether you’ve heard or not.

We’ve agreed to a six week Sabbath rest from ministry for me and Nancy to which we will tack on two weeks of regular annual vacation. My last Sunday in the pulpit will be April 20, Easter Sunday. Lord willing, I will return to the pulpit again on June 22. For the first six of those eight weeks we plan to retreat to our desolate refuge in Idaho, although we plan about a ten day road trip to get there, visiting some places and friends we haven’t seen for a long time. The elders want me to get all the rest and refreshment I can while out of pocket. For the last two weeks of the time I will participate in an annual pastoral retreat called the Spurgeon Sabbatical hosted by Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston. There I will join a number of other pastors from around the country for prayer, worship, instruction, dialogue, and further rest.

We felt led to make this provision for me, not just for rest after especially these past three years of demanding ministry, but also as an investment in the future. I hope, Lord willing, to hang around OGC for a good long time to come. Please pray with us that the Lord will do a work of spiritual inspiration and physical rejuvenation that will pay mega dividends in the future. Frankly, though we decided this well before the loss of our son, the additional demand grief has brought to our lives makes the prospect of such a season of rest even more welcome.