Today is the last day of my sabbatical, or what we call in the United Methodist Church, a renewal leave. It’s a time as a pastor to take a break, go away with Jesus, renew yourself, and refocus. I needed to take this time for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve been serving in ministry for nearly 20 years and never really taken a moment, a good moment, to breathe. Two, I love what I’m called to do, and hope to do it, Lord willing, for many more years. I needed this for refreshment and to refocus. It has been that, and I am thankful. I remain abundantly thankful to St. Matthew’s, my staff, my District Superintendent, my Bishop, and all the guest preachers that helped to make this possible. I checked in about halfway through and today, July 31, marks my last day. I’d like to briefly share a few things that I’ve learned.
- I have an addictive personality, I’ve always known that. My biological father was an addict, and I have that genetic makeup. My addiction shows itself in an approved sin, workaholism. I have become addicted to success. I’ve been very blessed in ministry, the churches I have served, for the most part, have grown and been successful in many ways. And, being a preacher is a lot like being a quarterback, we get too much credit for the wins. But I like that. I like the affirmation. I like the “attaboys.” I found my worth there. So, I lived and died with numbers and growth, because that was where my worth came from and I enjoyed that adrenaline rush of growth. Now, I want my churches to grow. I want people to know Jesus because only Jesus changes lives. But I want us to know Jesus more than anything. More than any metric. More than any statistic. Jesus. Because my worth is not found in those measurements. It is found in Jesus. I want to know Him more and more each day, and I want others to know Him more and more. Because only He changes lives. I know that, but it is easy to focus on other things, even out of good motives. I became addicted to success.
- I’m really not that important. I’m but a vapor. This life is brief. This moment is fleeting. That fate of the world is not on my shoulders, or your shoulders either. I take too much responsibility for things I have no control over. I am not responsible for your choices, only for mine.
- I am at my most healthy when I am trying to radically love others as Jesus loves them.
- Community and the table matter. We need a place to belong. All of us. I know for me that place is the church, and I hope that church can be that place for everyone. We worshiped together as a family every Sunday and that was so life-giving to me, to just be in church. I’ve struggled so often in life to figure out my place, where I belong. I could psychoanalyze myself and say as a child that grew up on a dirt road with few friends, I’ve always wanted to belong. There is so much division in the world right now. So much. The table, like our table at Thanksgiving, is a place where we can sit. Laugh. Be family. Jesus didn’t give us a theological lecture at the end, He gave us a table. I think that’s got to mean something.
- My ministry, and life, when it is at its best, is driven by grace. But what is grace? I’ve thought through that a lot this summer. This is what I think: Grace is a call. To more. To deeper. To being loved and loving others. Holiness (and grace) are not a destination, they are a journey and a process Grace says I am loved more than I can ever even imagine, but I am not yet the person that God has created me to be. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. In truth, we are all lacking. We are journeying towards wholeness. Grace is the only healing balm
These are just a few of the things I’m learning and hope to continue to learn. I’ve promised my family (and I never make promises) that this summer will not be the end of reflection and renewal for me but hopefully will be a new way of life.
No matter where you are in your journey today, know this, you are loved by an amazing God. You really are. No matter what.
May you feel His love today.