Last week was a little different week for me as it was my annual scheduled study leave. Each year I am given and encouraged to take a week in order to have the opportunity to do some things that I normally wouldn't have time to do. For the past six years I have done the same thing for my week of study leave. I have scheduled it during the week in which the Simeon Trust Workshop of Biblical Exposition took place in Des Moines, IA. I would then spend the week going through a bit of "spring training" for preachers. For the past six years, it has been pretty easy for me to know what I would be doing for my study leave. I would just plan to go to another Simeon Trust Workshop, but that changed this year. Sometime in the summer, as we were anticipating the arrival of our fourth child, Betty Ann, I decided that I didn't want to leave home for four days and three nights and leave Greta to manage everything that our children require all by herself. I decided that I would spend my study leave at home this year. That change in my annual routine then made me have to decide how I would spend my study leave. I'm sure it also created a similar question in the minds of my congregation. "What is Pastor doing on his study leave?"
I can divide how I spent my study leave into these three categories: Reading, Planning, and Retreat.
Reading: As a pastor, I believe that it is essential for me to continue to grow and to be challenged in my understanding of God's Word and God's World. So I read. I enjoy reading, but I don't primarily read because of my enjoyment of it, I read out of necessity. I believe it is essential for me to be able to serve the church with faithfulness. I know there is much that I need to learn and advance in my understanding of, so therefore I read. I usually make time for reading as a part of my work week, but I rarely have the opportunity for extended, uninterrupted time in reading. During my study leave, I sought to have just that.
"So Pastor, what did you read?"
Besides my time in God's Word (which was an essential part of each of these categories) I spent my reading time in four books. The first is a commentary on book one of the Psalms (chapters 1-41) by John Goldingay. I am a part of a group of pastors who get together every other month for a discussion on a book of the Bible and a book regarding ministry or theology. We are currently focused on the Psalms and are using Goldingay's commentary to spark our discussions over the Scripture. Each year of my life in pastoral ministry I become more and more enamored with the beauty and glory of the Psalms, so this reading and focus on them has been quite fruitful for me.
Each year I set goals for my reading so that I am not always reading the same type of book but instead am reading from a more broad range of subjects. I decided several years ago to always include at least one book in my reading plan from the great preacher from London's Westminster Chapel from the late 1930's - 1960's, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Almost all of Lloyd-Jones' sermons have been published and they are so very rich and God-centered, I am always blessed, challenged, and humbled by reading them. So I spent some time reading and thoroughly enjoying Lloyd-Jones' "Knowing the Times," which is a collection of "Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions from 1942-1977." I am almost through it and it has been very instructive as Lloyd-Jones was confronting some of the key challenges of those years for the church, which are really not all that different from the key challenges we still face today. But as MLJ reiterates in his messages, man's main problem and solution remains the same, we are sinners who can't do anything to help ourselves, and our great need is for God to graciously rescue us out of our hopeless condition.
I also spent some good time catching up on my reading of the classic theological text, "The Institutes of the Christian Religion", by the 16th century reformer, John Calvin. As a part of my reading plan for this year I wanted to get through the first volume of this two-volume work and I was a little behind until my study leave. Reading this great work by Calvin has probably been the most encouraging and faith-building book I have been reading this year besides Holy Scripture. My spirit was uplifted this past week by my time spent with Calvin.
The last book I spent time in during my study leave was the new book "Progressive Covenantalism" edited by Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker. I know that title may sound strange and confusing. That is because it is a title created by Biblical scholars for a system of reading and interpreting Scripture. There are two main theological systems that Biblical interpretation falls into; dispensationalism and covenant theology. Progressive Covenantalism is a system that seeks to "chart a course between" these two prominent systems. I just dipped my toe into this book, but I am already encouraged with what I have been reading. I believe this book will be quite helpful to me and am looking forward to reading and thinking through it.
Planning: One of my goals for the week was to plan out my sermons for the rest of the year and see how far I could get into sermon planning for 2018. I was grateful for the extra time to think and pray over this most important work in planning what we will hear from God's Word as a church for the coming months. You should know that I don't just decide on Saturday night what I'm going to be preaching on the next morning. I seek to plan in advance, praying and trusting that the LORD is guiding the process by His providential hand.
Retreat: On Thursday of last week I spent the day down at Timberlake Ranch just outside of Central City, NE. I set aside this day for a personal retreat, a day just to be alone with God. Timberlake provided me with a cabin on the lake to stay in during my day there. I was greatly looking forward to this day, imagining that I would spend a good portion of the day walking around the camp, enjoying the comfortable fall weather, and basking in all the glories of God's creation that the camp had to offer. God had other plans however, as it rained almost all day long. After lunch the rain stopped and so I took advantage of it and was determined to walk around the camp. But by the time I got to the opposite side of the camp property, the rain began to fall again. Thankfully there are plenty of trees which helped to shield me somewhat from the rain as I made my way back to the cabin. But I had several hours, alone with God to pray, read His Word, and rest in His presence.
It is such a privilege to serve a congregation that prays for their pastor and provides opportunities like these for me to focus on my own soul and personal growth. Thank you. I know this study leave was good for me as each of the previous ones has been as well. I look forward to getting back into the pulpit this week to proclaim God's Word to you from 2 Samuel 22. May the LORD be honored and glorified among us and through us as a church.