Archives For Sabbatical

Pastoral Ministry and Writing

Chris —  July 1, 2010

Over time, I’ve realized that part of what God’s call on my life is for me write on some modest level.  Part of my Sabbatical is also about renewal for writing.  While, I won’t be writing to a deadline during Sabbatical, I will be reading, taking notes, and thinking about future writing projects.

For me, the heart of writing is that it is how I can best multiply the talents entrusted to me (Matt 25:14-30).  Christians are not called to play it safe.  We are to make the most of what God has entrusted to us.

Those gifted to write, have stunning opportunities to share with people around the world.  What would Paul have said about the thought that he could write to churches via the Internet?

In addition to the idea of being the best steward of what God has entrusted to me, I can also relate point for point with a summary of reasons for writing that John Piper recently shared.  (Be assured that I in know way consider myself as a peer with John Piper!)

John Piper:

Why do I pursue writing in this way? There are other very important things to do. Here are the reasons that I am aware of, moving from general to specific.

  1. I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. Writing is one way of spreading this passion. God says I exist for his glory (Isaiah 43:7). Therefore, I write to make him look great.
  2. I write to serve the church. Speaking the truth about important things is a good thing for the health of the church. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17). I pray that the church will be helped by what I write.
  3. I learn most when I am writing. So since God commands me to grow in the knowledge and the grace of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18), it seems like a good method for me.
  4. I find a good deal of pleasure in the craft of writing. Some people delight to paint. Others to sculpt. Others to remodel old furniture. Others to crochet and cross-stitch. I delight to make words effective in awakening passion for the sake of Christ-exalting truth.
  5. I have been profoundly changed by reading books. So I know that God uses books to change people for his glory. I would like to see others experience some of the things I have experienced in seeing God through the eyes of others.
  6. Finally, there is an inner impulse that I cannot explain that drives me to write. I would write if there were no possibility of publication. I have hundreds of pages that no one has ever seen but me, and it would not matter ultimately if they were destroyed. I wrote them not to be published but because there is an impulse from within.

The picture to the right is of Jamie and me in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland.  One cannot look at too many village landscapes in Western Europe, without seeing a steeple.

I recall once reading that Calvin said when Paul received the Macedonian call it was the most fortuitous moment in history.  It meant that the Gospel traveled west rather than east – – initially to Europe rather than Asia.  Given the boundaries of the Roman Empire, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel soon blazed all the way to England and in God’s Providence, to the New World. (This post will help you better understand the point).

By circa 200, Tertullian was able to say:

We are but of yesterday, but we have filled every place among you cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods.

Traveling about Europe, it is mind boggling to see churches dotted across the landscape and to consider how the entire culture was shaped by the cause of Christ.

Yet, it is also tragic to reflect on the reality that much of the spiritual soil here is as tillable as concrete.  We so need to pray for the West!

Last night after having dinner in Salzburg, our family reflected together on the Great Commission and the call to go into all the world and make disciples.  We awoke to the Salzburg church bells ringing, reminding us that nearly 2000 years ago, God directed Paul to spread the Gospel West.

See also, The Miracle that was Paul

DSCN0515This is a picture of the Lauterbrunnen Valley we are staying in Switzerland.  So, you won’t be surprised that our first Sunday in Switzerland, we reflected on Psalm 8. 

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

When we consider how God’s glory shines in His creation, it is amazing to consider that we have been been created in his image and placed as his special vice-regents to care for all that he made.

Our church family knows that through a generous grant from the Lilly Foundation, I have the opportunity for a sabbatical this summer.  For for the first five weeks of our sabbatical, we will be headquartered at this chalet in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland (D.V.) – – Our Swiss home thanks to the Lilly foundation. . . keep in mind we were only able to do this because of the grant.

The Lauterbrunnen Valley is considered one of the most beautiful places in Europe – – indeed, in all the world.  Wikipedia:

Lauterbrunnen lies at the bottom of a hanging or U-shaped valley that extends south and then south-westwards from the village to meet the 8 kilometers (5 mi) Lauterbrunnen Wall. The valley of Lauterbrunnen (Lauterbrunnental) is one of the deepest in the Alpine chain when compared with the height of the mountains that rise directly on either side. It is a true cleft, rarely more than one kilometre in width, between limestones precipices, sometimes quite perpendicular, everywhere of extreme steepness. It is to this form of the valley that it owes the numerous waterfalls from which it derives its name. The streams descending from the adjoining mountains, on reaching the verge of the rocky walls of the valley, form cascades so high that they are almost lost in spray before they reach the level of the valley. The most famous of these are the Staubbach Falls within less than one kilometres of the village of Lauterbrunnen. The height of the cascade is between 800 and 900 feet (240 and 270 m), one of the highest in Europe formed of a single unbroken fall.

The rest here.

Our prayer is that God will use this pause in pattern and place to allow me to be renewed for pastoral ministry so that I can continue to preach the Word and shepherd the flock.

Why not take a walk today (even if it’s raining) and read Psalm 8?  While I admit that we are uniquely blessed in our opportunity to go to Switzerland, the glory of God is seen in every corner of creation.  Take a walk – – and then walk through history with some great reading.

This photo pictures two of the things that I want to accomplish on my sabbatical (D.V.):

  • Walking – The chance to be out in God’s Creation and to prayerfully reflect on life and ministry.
  • Reading – As was famously said, to read great books is to enter into the “Great Conversation.”



HT: Alan Jacobs

One of our goals this summer during my sabbatical is not simply for me to take a sabbatical, but for our church as a whole to grow in their understanding of Sabbath.  In this brief clip, John Piper shares practical wisdom about taking a Sabbath.

You can either read the transcript, watch the video, or listen.


The following is an edited transcript of the audio.

It’s easy to get the impression that you are always working hard. What do you do to relax and unwind?

I think unwind is a right way to say it, because souls and minds can screw down really tight. You can run on adrenaline for a long time and be at such a fever pitch that it becomes destructive. It’ll give you heart disease and so on.

So it’s a good question, and I think everybody needs to do it. I think that’s what the Sabbath principle is in the Bible. God forbade this agrarian people from working who thought that their livelihood depended on working seven days a week. What a thrilling thing to be told not to work, right? "You cannot work, you have to relax today." So I think the principle is there in the Sabbath principle.

Read more here.

If you need to be moved from one place emotionally to another: (1) Identify a Psalm that relates to your experience.  (2) Systematically memorize it over a period of time.  (3) As you do so, experience the movement of the Psalm and be transported by the Spirit in conjunction with the Word.

Psalms are poetry.  This means that they are truth to be experienced.  The idea with poetry is not that we simply learn objective truth.  Rather, poetry, particularly in the case of the Word of God,  transports us through an experience.

You might respond, “Well, when I read Psalms, it doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

We cannot experience poetry with a quick read.  Rather, we need to hear the Words – – to reflect on them – – to prayerfully take in delight at pondering the images.  There is no better way to accomplish this than through memorization.


But, how does one go about memorizing?  As I have posted in the past (see these posts), a system is needed.  (This post provides a concise summary of my approach).

Below are two pages from my moleskin that picture how I went about memorizing Psalm 65 this summer.  While you wouldn’t be able to read my writing even if it was larger, you can see that my basic approach was to mediate on the Psalm by saying it over and over again.


If you were to turn to the next page, you would see notes that I made while memorizing the Psalm – – ways that the Psalm moved me.

I appreciated this Psalm initially, but nowhere near the degree to which I savor it now.


Why Psalm 65?

I chose Psalm 65 initially because of verse 6, “The one who established the mountains being girded with might.”  I was staying in the Lauterbrunnen valley (see below) at the time, arguably the most beautiful valley in Europe.  My goal was for the poetry of the Word of God to interpret the beauty for me so that I could move from the place of initial awe to one of worship.

What I discovered by memorizing the Psalm – – was that this is a Psalm about joy and happiness.  Indeed, the place where it moves the prayerful “meditator” is to one of celebration.

One of my favorite things to do in the Lauterbrunnen Valley was watch this cog wheel train wind its way up the side of the mountain.  It was as though I was watching a life-toy train.  What a joy to meditate on the truth that the Triune God established these mountains, being girded with might (Psalm 65:6).


Which is the right Psalm for you to begin memorizing?  There are only 150 to chose from.  So it shouldn’t take that long to identify one.

Our sabbatical plan (D.V.) is to be in Lauterbrunnen when. . . I am posting this months in advance, but we’ve so been looking forward to it.

My sabbatical begins today (D.V.).  The goal is renewal.  Below is a post from John Piper in which he summarizes 10 resolutions for mental health given by Clyde Kilby.  I read this on January 1 (thanks Z), but I scheduled it for now, because I want to remind myself of these resolutions during my sabbatical.


Quoting Piper:

“On October 22, 1976, Clyde Kilby, who is now with Christ in Heaven, gave an unforgettable lecture. I went to hear him that night because I loved him. He had been one of my professors in English Literature at Wheaton College. He opened my eyes to more of life than I knew could be seen.

O, what eyes he had! He was like his hero, C. S. Lewis, in this regard. When he spoke of the tree he saw on the way to class this morning, you wondered why you had been so blind all your life. Since those days in classes with Clyde Kilby, Psalm 19:1 has been central to my life: “The sky is telling the glory of God.”

That night Dr. Kilby had a pastoral heart and a poet’s eye. He pled with us to stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, but instead to drink in the remedies of God in nature.

He was not naïve. He knew of sin. He knew of the necessity of redemption in Christ. But he would have said that Christ purchased new eyes for us as well as new hearts. His plea was that we stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things.

He ended that lecture in 1976 with a list of resolutions. As a tribute to my teacher and a blessing to your soul, I offer them for your joy.

10 Resolutions for Mental Health

1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.

2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: "There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing."

3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities.

I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.

4. I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.

5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.

6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their "divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic" existence.

7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the "child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder."

8. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.

9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, "fulfill the moment as the moment." I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.

10. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

(Originally posted 12/31/07)