Two Words

The halfway point of my ten-week sabbatical is now behind me. I find the pace of time incredibly difficult to fathom. Though the past five weeks have been filled with much activity, inactivity also offsets busyness and provides delightful open spaces of absolute nothingness.

Even with deliberate steps to totally disconnect from ministry, it took about three weeks until I found myself unhooking in mind and thought. Since then, I have been able to find deep rest in mind and spirit.

I find myself enjoying daily exercise, walking or biking, striving to achieve my goal in weight loss. Much to my surprise, I rediscovered a deep thirst for reading as I had significant time to read. Before I knew it, I plowed through a stack of books (eighteen to be exact). Most of these books have been idly waiting on my reading list for quite some time. I was reminded, again, of my joy of reading—for fun and personal growth. While in seminary, nearly every class including 2,500 plus pages of required reading—required being the imperative word. To have time to read for fun from select authors and subjects of my choice without any required expectation, is truly refreshing. I immersed myself in a plethora of genres including theological, spiritual, biography, nonfiction, fiction, and historical fiction.

We have enjoyed time at our hunting camp in Juniata County and have engaged in a variety of events with our children and grandchildren. Shirley and I were gifted two tickets to see “Jesus” at Sight and Sound. To hear and observe the personal side of Jesus in voice and expression throughout the Gospel story was very moving. I was deeply touched by the dramatic presentation of the Jesus story.

At the launch of our sabbatical, Shirley and I experienced a rich week at Sonscape Retreats in Colorado. Our setting was a remote mountainous cabin nestled outside of Woodland Park with the canvas of Pikes Peak as our backdrop. Sonscape’s mission offers retreat for “pastors seeking to deepen their walk with Jesus or to sort out the struggles of ministry life.”  The syllabus is purposefully designed to be experienced within a small group context—a total of four couples or individuals, a facilitator couple, and a cook. Group sessions and personal interviews were intimate and focused on self-care, thus creating an environment for rest, solitude, and prayerful listening.

I was challenged and reminded of my need for a weekly sabbath and creating space for silence and solitude in my life. I am not alone. Thus, why Sonscape exists and is booked solid.

While there, two words burned continually in my mind throughout the week—remain steadfast.

I invest the time and money to go to Sonscape and this is the “word” the Lord has for me? Remain steadfast.

What? Really? Why?

These two words—remain steadfast—have since been reinforced in a variety of settings and readings since then.

One of my favorite Old Testament heroes is Jeremiah. The past month, I have been rereading the fifty-two chapters of Jeremiah’s call, his tumultuous life, and faith story. Despite the outrageous and crazy season of time in which Jeremiah served, his faithfulness epitomizes the definition of remaining steadfast. What a hero of the faith!

Our Sonscape facilitator made a passing reference which really gripped me. He referenced a familiar list of godly leaders who went off the rails theologically or morally, some even going so far as to renounce their faith in Christ and shipwrecking the faith of many in their wake. Several of these leaders’ books, written while they were yet faithful, are on my bookcase. His point was: Studies have shown time and again that pastors who fail to maintain a weekly sabbath, silence, or solitude, and who fail to have personal accountability in their life, are at great risk.

I am grateful to be gifted through several layers of personal and moral accountability in my life. A godly man, whom I deeply trust, meets monthly and forthrightly asks me the tough and necessary personal questions. While this is all good, I was convicted of my recklessness, lack of self-care, and my failure to practice a weekly sabbath, including silence and solitude.

With sadness this week, I read of Christian author Josh Harris’s (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) decision to not only divorce his wife, but totally renounced his faith in Christ. Or, as Josh calls it he underwent “a massive shift” and is “deconstructing” his faith. He states, “I am no longer Christian.” How will his decision impact an entire generation of young adults influenced by this New York Times bestselling author?

I wonder, “How did this ‘massive shift’ happen?” “Did the lack of accountability and self-care make its mark in yet another leader?”

While I was never a subscriber of Josh’s philosophies on dating and relationships, his decision to renounce his faith grossly compromises the greater Christian witness and integrity of the church. His failed marriage compromises all credibility of his writing on relationships. Sadly, Josh joins the ever-growing list of fallen leaders. Josh failed in his faith and in witness for Christ.

In our final session, a simple statement was shared which captured Shirley and my heart as an excellent life statement. “Oh that the glory of God would be the measure of success!”

Remain steadfast.

Indeed, perhaps two very timely words, not just for me…but for all of us.

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:9 NIV)