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Sabbatical and the finish line

Sabbatical and the finish line

As you would expect, now that I’m back from Sabbatical I’ve been getting asked “How was it?” I’m guessing that most of you that have asked are hoping for more than just a superficial answer. Since it’s pretty impossible to distill the past months into a hallway conversation sound-byte I thought it would be helpful to write a short blog to everyone. 

Before I do, however, I need to say thank you for the time that I’ve had off.  Several times throughout the summer I’ve felt like I wanted to express my gratitude but wasn’t sure how to do it—so I’ll begin anyway by saying it here.  I know that the opportunity to get a block of rest like Rachel and I did this summer is something that most people don’t get, and we are grateful for that gift from you all.  We are beyond thankful for all the people who had to carry extra weight while we were gone and who loved us so well in doing so.  The way that the church has cared for Rachel and me, not just in sabbatical, but through the last several years, is something you don’t see often.  We are grateful to be a part of Creekside.  I hope that in our absence you were able to see the deep and diverse gifting of others in our body and how God’s work in his church goes way beyond any single person. 

Before leaving for sabbatical I had numerous questions—”Are you going to write a book?”  “What are you going to do?”  “What are your goals?” and it felt weirdly inadequate to answer to have to say that our goal was simply to rest.  But we really needed it, not just physically, but spiritually as a reminder of how much we need the Lord. Ever since humanity rebelled against God, rest has been elusive to us—and it often is to me.  We exchanged his rest for toil, for work that leaves us frustrated, for eking out a living from the ground until we return to it, rest is something we struggle with.  Rest is a gift from God.  I read once that “we rest not because our work is done—we rest because it will never be finished.”  The idea of sabbath, of rest, is simply a shadow that points us to the substance of Christ (Col 2:17).  It is a simple and quiet reminder of how much we need Jesus, that we will never be able to work hard enough or well enough, and that we need to rest from our works because he finished them for us (Heb 4:1-10). 

So, our Sabbatical was a needed rest, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  At the beginning of Sabbatical we went on a 5,000 mile road trip that helped us disengage from the day-to-day pressures of ministry.  The middle of sabbatical was spent resting and celebrating some big milestones with our immediate and extended family.  Rachel and I spent the last few weeks mostly by ourselves, asking God to prepare our hearts for returning this Fall.  During that time I decided to spend some time reading through 2 Timothy.

Ironically, the theme that God seemed to impress upon me from that time was this:  As good as a gift that the rest was, I was in need of endurance—I needed to press on harder than I was.  There were times over this past year or two where I felt myself coasting—I still don’t know how much of that was a necessary part of pacing of myself during a hard season, or how much of it was a sinful yielding to the desire of my flesh for comfort and ease.  In either case, what I was hearing from the Lord, through his word, was that I needed to press forward in greater faith and hope.  Hope that fueled endurance.  These words in 2 Timothy really struck me: 

2 Timothy 1:8–10 (NASB95)

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel… 

Life and immortality.  Jesus has brought life and immortality to light.  Paul didn’t just write that.  His life was radically different because he really believed it.  His conviction about what was his and what would be his at the return of Jesus moved him to persevere through situations that wouldn’t make sense otherwise.  In that letter he was calling Timothy to join him (see also 2 Tim 1:12; 2:1, 10, 3:10).   Near the end of his letter Paul reminds him of the reward at the ultimate finish line for “all those who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim 4:8).  In contrast is Demas who “having loved this present world, has deserted…” (2 Tim 4:10).  Those who run the race through the finish line will discover it was all worth it in the end—that nothing can compare for what awaits.   

As I conclude, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.  I still have a lot of work in front of me.  There’s a big difference between being convicted about my need for a perseverance that flows from a greater faith and a deeper hope; and seeing my heart embrace those things consistently.  At the same time, I’m learning to rest in the reality that God who saved me will continue that work in me until that day when Jesus returns.