More Sabbatical Learnings coming down the home stretch...

More Sabbatical Learnings:
-       I have underestimated how much time I need to be alone to think.  I cannot accept that thinking on the fly is all the thinking I have time for.
-       In a world of deadlines and bottomlines, I must stay rooted in my love for storylines.  People must remain the pearl of great price, not programs, presentations, or productions.
-       I have spent too much of my life on things that have never and will never happen outside the Petri dish of my own mind.
-       Taking care of my body is one of the best gifts I can give my soul.  I have never felt how interconnected they both are, reliant on each other’s health.
-       I think there is a difference between drive and passion, compulsive behavior and love.  These can get confused in the woods and weeds of ministry.
-       It’s been assuring to see life go on quite well with me.  I think Satan lies to me about my importance creating a clever bondage….this is a source of needless anxiety.
-       When I overstep my calling, I step on the toes of other people’s unique contribution.  I may be thinking I’m “just trying to help”, but I’m actually robbing them of purpose.
-       Though I love preaching, I have been astonished how much I don’t miss it.  I miss relationships I have in the church more than roles I play in the church.
-       I have been reminded how centering the discipline of writing is for me.  It is a way for me to untangle thoughts and name feelings.  It orders my inner world.
-       The books that I have been most impacted by are the ones that are a reminder of the simple things, not the ones that are trying to pitch something no one has ever heard of before fighting for some nebulous market share.
-       I love reading the Bible without the pressure of making it say something for me by the weekend.  It’s freeing to not impose ‘stage fright’ onto the text.  The Bible is beautiful.
-       I’ve reclaimed my love of the woods again.  My senses have been awakened for the beauty of nature and my time in God’s creation has jump started my heart.
-       I feel that after 4 years I have finally bonded with my boys.  They have been bonded with me, but my heart finally released itself to them and the difference is staggering.
-       After visiting countless churches each weekend I am doubtless in my belief that I’m a part of a truly special church in the humble town of Lowell.  It’s honestly very, very  unique…the place and the people.
-       I have been surprised how easy it has been for my heart to extract itself from the ministry.  There have been a few days that I’ve felt pangs of identity crisis, but for the most part it couldn’t be further than the East is from the West in my daily musings.
-       I’ve been shown how much I trust my leadership teames in my absence.  This hiatus was a test of my confidence in the people I do ministry with that God has assembled beside me and there’s no way I would feel the freedom I do if I didn’t trust them implicitly.
-       I have discovered that my weakest spiritual discipline is prayer.  I’ve known this cognitively, but my soul has felt my bereft belief in prayer.  I don’t know what has happened over the years to affect my belief in the power of intercession, but I’m still trying to figure out why I have such a rocky relationship with prayer.  I’ll continue to pray until I find out, if ever I do.
-       I am drawn to the daily news for some reason…I have an almost irresistible urge to see what has happened in the last 24 hours.  I don’t know if this is good or bad, but it has caused pause in my heart to feel how compulsive it is.
-       Many would peg me as a spontaneous free spirit, but I’m amazed how much I need structure in my day to function healthily.  When I stick to daily disciplines, I’m more productive with less time.
-       I’ve had a nagging suggestion in my head that if I wasn’t in ministry I wouldn’t care about God, people, and the church as I do.  It’s been galvanizing to see that my love for God’s Word, the God of the Word, the world around me, and the Plan A option of the church have only grown without the pressure to produce or perform the duties of ministry.  It’s something I needed to find out for my own psyche’s sake.
-       It is important for me to do hard things and to overcome them in order to feel true and pure.  The more I play it safe, the more it guts my guts to lead people.  You can’t lead what you do not live.
-       I have been intrigued with World History and specifically our American history, this experiment call the United States.  The miracles of our origin and the people who argued, fought, forged, thought, sacrificed, and died for our independence and constitution stagger me.  I have fallen more in love with America in my time away even with all her flaws and failures along the way.
-       I wondered if my battle with anxiety would subside over my sabbatical.  Though there certainly was a lessening of my stress level, the simmering nature of my anxiety still persisted under my sternum even in moments of freedom, peace, laughter, and adventure.  That was a little disappointing.  So the journey continues…
-       This time has shown me how different I am when I’m present instead of preoccupied, especially at home.  I am literally a different person when I’m not distracted with whatever the day has dished out or what the future may or may not hold. 
-       I have been shown how much my wife compensates for me each day.  If she sees I’m feeling heavy, she just takes it upon herself to fill in the gaps I’m leaving.  I’ve noticed this before, but this time of freedom has allowed her to have freedom instead of doing whatever she can do to not contribute to my stress.  I hate coming to see that so clearly.
-       As it relates to church, I can influence things, but I cannot control them.  I can be used to help people, but I can’t save people.  I can give people good choices, but I cannot choose for them.  I have to make a shift from wanting certain things to happen resting in the work of God in people’s lives.  I can’t take their decisions personally.  I will either be a bondservant of Jesus or a slave to people.  There is no middle ground in my life.
-       In visiting other churches, I am saddened by how common it was to walk into a beautiful facility that upon entering it turned into a vacuum.  It’s ok to have resources and awesome programs, but if the people are dead or disconnected, the place is barren of life, and the more beautiful and successful the church was without the pulsating life of people, the more noticeable it was.  That is to say, when a church was under-resourced and non-flashy, the gap wasn’t as gapping…you almost expected it.  I just couldn’t believe how many ‘great’ churches are filled with people and not presence.  It honestly scared me and gnaws at me even now.  I will do whatever I can within my power to not let that happen…I mean it.
-       I have recaptured my love for the lost in my time away.  Without the church community, I have had to form community in other places with people who don’t go to church or see the world as I do.  My heart comes alive as I’ve had the opportunity to interact with the world God loves.  I can’t let church hem me in, I need to keep getting out in the streets sharing the gospel with people who could care less about church or God.
-       I miss corporate worship with my local church, people in my community on mission with me.  You can gather, greet, sing, and hear the Word, but there is nothing like worshiping God in my local church…I’m starving to sing under the leadership of our band.  I’m dying to talk with the people that live near me and walk with me on a weekly basis.  I am a homebody, a homeboy that needs a homechurch.
-       It’s been good to pull away from a communal relationship with God for a bit.  I’ve needed to see how God and I are doing apart from the collective.  I think I mistakenly feel close to God when I wonder if it’s frankly osmosis.  I believe in being with the body, but I want to be assured that I’m not losing my personal love for Christ because I’m in a God-greenhouse.  Spending time alone with God has been sweet.
-       Fear continues to be the presence crouching at the door each morning seeking to neutralize me.  I wondered if it would go away in my time away, but it stuck around.  I’ve faced off with it time and time again reminding it that it will be cast out by perfect love.  So instead of fighting fear, I am pursuing perfect love…both loving more purely myself and letting God’s unconditional love pour over me even when I don’t feel worthy.  And I don’t feel worthy a lot it turns out.
-       It’s become clear that I often live to prove myself to God and to prove something to people.  There are wounds from my past I’ve had to wrestle down to discover where this lifestyle of “proof and proving” comes from.  It has been important to root myself deeply into my identity in Christ apart from my behavior or performance.  I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to accept God’s love when I don’t think I’ve done something well.
-       A reoccurring theme in the last three months has been the call to be a servant.  Not a leader.  Not a servant-leader.  Just a servant.  “I am here to serve people and please God.”  I’ve said that over and over again the last couple months.  I want to be content with the life of a servant even if it doesn’t feel leader-like.
-       I must continue to find my approval in the Christ’s work on the cross not in my work in the church.  As the Proverbs say, “The fear of man is a snare.”   I’ve felt that acutely over the years and I long to seek God’s approval so that when all is said and done, I can confidently say, “You were my prized audience and your applause mattered more than anyone else’s.”  Not easy, but essential.
-       I have asked myself the scary question: “Do I really know Christ?  Is this for him or me?  Am I a disciple of Jesus?”  I believe so much is done for God by so many that has nothing to do with Jesus.  That hunch comes from an intimate knowledge of my own misplaced motivations.  I have to continue to fight for the authenticity of my faith in a world that seems to care about my service, not my salvation.  I have to be the one who chases after the “joy of my salvation” that needs renewing day by day.


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