Over the past two months, I’ve had the privilege to enjoy a sabbatical from my regular routine of pastoral service. As I reflect, I must answer the question…was it worthwhile? My exuberant answer is absolutely “YES!” I’ve gained a profound appreciation of the truth that LIFE IS REWARDING AND JOYFUL when it’s lived IN GOD’S WAY!
My goal these past two months was primarily to practice what I preach when it comes to living out loving relationships in the right order of priority. That’s why I didn’t just sleep in and waste the days sitting idly by. Keeping JESUS FIRST, I rose early every day to walk and talk with my Lord. I cherished the richness of His Word for life, pondering it deeply. I prayed fervently, taking everything to the Lord. My prayers began first and foremost with praise to my gracious God for life, love, Heather, my children, my congregation, the church throughout the world and the privilege to share the love of Jesus with all. These early morning hours renewed my spirit and connected me more deeply with my first priority…my walk with my Bridegroom, Jesus. Keeping “Thumbs Up” to Jesus IS the key to a joyous, eternal life!
The second priority of my sabbatical time was to focus on my number one human relationship…with my AWESOME WIFE, HEATHER! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend every day close beside my beloved bride. We ate, slept, laughed, cried, dreamed, traveled, served, prayed and communed together. We loved sacrificially, unconditionally and incarnationally…as Jesus taught us first. Our love for and delight in one another grew more deeply than ever. As we observed our 24th wedding anniversary on June 3rd, we delighted in renewing our commitment to share the next 24 years and beyond together. This focus on Heather had the added benefit of achieving another prime objective of this sabbatical…teaching others about the awesome gifts of Jesus for relationships. In Grand Blanc, Tennessee, Missouri, Nebraska, South Africa, and forty-plus hours in the air…we were able to SHOW the love of Jesus by openly loving each other in His way. And it WAS noticed! Our new dear friend in the faith, Rev. Manqoba of St. Peter’s Confessional Lutheran Church, Middleburg, S. Africa, put it well as he gave his evaluation after our first 48 hours in Middleburg. He stated that our message of Jesus and His profoundly gracious love was coming through in a new and powerful way to him and everyone we were encountering in S. Africa because it was obvious we really believe what we say. He said that no one could miss how deeply Heather and I love each other with Jesus’ love. The Holy Spirit was clearly using our words and example to teach God’s awesome way to rewarding and joyful relationships. I thank God for this fantastic opportunity I’ve had to celebrate life and witness of love with Heather these past two months!
The sabbatical also provided some time to celebrate life and Jesus’ love with the rest of my FAMILY. It was great to have time with Hannah and Micah in their transition time between college and summer work. We all enjoyed seeing my dad and other family in Nebraska. But, the greatest highlight was time spent with Hannah’s boyfriend, Matthew…who I’m thrilled to say will soon be my son-in-law! Heather and I awoke at 5:30 one morning in Africa to begin a day of counseling and service when we received a phone call from Hannah and Matt with the wonderful news of their engagement. I thank God that He’s given Hannah a Christian man who earnestly desires to live and love in God’s way…especially toward his bride-to-be. Some quality talk time with Matthew gives me confidence that he and Hannah will have a wonderful life of love and service together…in Jesus’ way. This time, in itself, made the sabbatical worthwhile. Life in God’s way is being passed along to the next generation.
Although I was away from Faith Lutheran Church in Grand Blanc for most of the sabbatical time, my beloved home congregation also prospered along with the worldwide BODY OF CHRIST. The members of Faith practiced Jesus’ sacrificial, unconditional and incarnate love in many ways, but especially with random acts of kindness in the community. Washing cars, pumping gas and picking up trash were all ways to be as Christ to the world.
Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa also jumped on board the mission movement with the Spirit in a powerful way. They hungrily devoured what Heather and I served up from God’s Word. Through seventy-plus hours of preaching, teaching and counseling, we were able to guide hundreds to rightly prioritized relationships marked by the perfect love of Jesus.
I have confidence these bold Christians will continue to live in and show forth life in God’s way for all to see. Many more WILL receive and rejoice in the love and grace of Jesus. As my brother Pastor Manqoba declared with hopeful excitement, “We will never be the same!”
By intentional effort and pure grace, these past two months have been a tremendously rewarding time. I’ve grown in my loving relationships with Jesus, Heather, my family, Christ’s body throughout the world and many who joined this body for the first time. I’ve been thoroughly refreshed through this time as I’ve seen the loving hand of Jesus in so many beautiful ways. From the animals of the African wild, to comforted hearts at a Zulu woman’s funeral, to captive souls set free, only the loving touch of Jesus could reveal such power, grace and pure love. I thank my Bridegroom for His lavish gifts these past two months. I am truly blessed beyond words. With my brother, Pastor Manqoba, I can say with optimistic joy, “I will never be the same!”