Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Presence

I have been thinking a lot this last week or so about 2 Chronicles, chapters 5 through 7. This is the account of Solomon finishing the Temple, and its dedication.

Some of you are sort of joining me on part of my sabbatical by reading Gordon Fee's book Paul, the Spirit and the People of God (for ease of typing, I am going to refer to this book as Paul). I read this book before going on sabbatical, and in preparation for my reading of the companion book by Fee, God's Empowering Presence (likewise for ease, I will refer to this book as Empowering), which offers the academic work which lies behind the smaller book. The second chapter in Paul deals with the "Spirit as the Renewed Presence of God." When I first read this, it really spoke to me and now as I am reading Empowering I am thinking more about this concept of God's presence. In the second chapter of Paul, Fee talks about how God has come to dwell with us, his people, though the Holy Spirit living within us. That, quite naturally, was not a new concept to me. Fee goes on, however, to link this dwelling of God in us with the dwelling that God did in the Tabernacle while the children of Israel journeyed through the wilderness, and the with the way God dwelled among his people in the Temple.

This connection--that the New Testament indwelling of each believer, and consequently of the church, is the fulfillment of the Old Testament's dwelling of God among his people--caught my attention like never before. What an amazing idea, and Fee does a great job in both books of anchoring the idea in scripture. It is clearly what God promised in Ezekiel 36:26-27 and Jeremiah 31-31-33. I just never really thought of it in that way. But think of it. When the Tabernacle was finished, God showed up as a Cloud of Glory by day and a Pillar of Fire by night (Exodus 40:34-38). Again, when the Temple was finally built by Solomon in 2 Chronicles 5-7, God showed up again and filled the place with his glory so that the priest could not even go inside. Everyone fell down and worshiped.

Viewing the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit from this perspective brings new meaning to the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. There was a rushing wind (the cloud?) and what seemed like tongues of fire (the pillar of fire) on that day, as well, as the Holy Spirit filled the disciples and the church was born. This is the New Testament fulfillment to those Old Testament events and images, and it means we are the chosen people, the people of God, loved by him, filled with his presence. But in our case, it is not just the facility that is filled (the Tabernacle or the Temple), but it is our hearts. We are the Temple of God and thus God is with us always. And when a group of us gather for worship, God is there in a big way.

Part of me is saying that I have known this all along; but another part of me is saying that there is something new here. Fee says somewhere in one of these books that the distinguishing mark of the Christian is the Presence of God. If that is so--if God lives in us--then it ought to be readily apparent. We should know it and others should sense it. And sometimes we do and they do. Also, if God dwells in the church as he did in the Temple (God dwells in us and we are the church), then his presence should be felt in the church. And sometimes it is, but sometimes it is not. I believe this second chapter holds importance for my life and for our congregation.

I was wondering as I pondered this, if when I am heading out to attend church on Sunday morning, if I am thinking mostly about the encounter with God I will have as I gather with other God-filled persons for worship, or if other things occupy my mind. Is worship about encountering the God who dwells within me and among us, or is it about fellowship or tradition or something else? Is worship about God or about me? Of course too often for me, Sunday morning worship is about preaching and doing the work of ministry. One thing the gift of this sabbatical has allowed is for me to worship freely without the responsibilities of leadership.

As you know, I have been seeking a new/renewed experience with God during this time apart. As I have been thinking about this concept of dwelling and reading Fee and the Bible, I have also been listening to another song that has held special significance for me during the last year or so. Let Your Glory Fall was our theme song a few years ago when we did the Elijah series in worship. When I first heard it, I thought it was about the Mt Carmel experience of Elijah and the prophets of Ba'al. But then I realized that it was based on the time when God filled the Temple as recorded in 2 Chronicles. Here is a link to the song; join me in my prayer that I, and the church, experience a transforming visitation of the Holy One.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Gloriuos Thought

This past Sunday Doris and I attended worship at East Fairview Church of the Brethren because our son, Nathan, was preaching. It was his last sermon there, and he did a great job. He has resigned his position as Director of Youth so that he can return to seminary on a more full-time basis, and be more of a stay home dad while Nicole finishes her residency.

We attended the 8:30 service and God did an amazing thing in my heart. It was not in response to our son's sermon (sorry Nate), but rather during a song that preceded the sermon. Just prior to the sermon we sang the song "In Christ Alone" accompanied by a video. I know this song, and have sung it often (we use it in worship during second service), but this day it really spoke to me. As you know, my prayer has been that I again feel God's hand upon my heart, and it happened while I sang this song on Sunday. God stroked my heart with his love and I cried. It was a glorious moment. (I entitled this post "A Glorious Thought" because it is the corollary to an earlier post entitled "A Not-So-Glorious Thought").

Here is the song and the actual video version of it that they used on Sunday.

Why now, during this song, at this location. Not sure, maybe just a combination of my knowing that I needed forgiveness (see my previous post), and my having unwound enough during these first few weeks of sabbatical that I could simply allow God's love to flow through me, and my study these days around the work of the Holy Spirit and my prayers and desires that I again feel the presence of God in my life (as Misty Edwards sings in "Awaken Me"). I don't know, and don't need to.

Anyway, I was overwhelmed by the gracious love of God and his particular love for me, and with what Jesus has done for me in his life, death and resurrection.

God is so good.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Darkness Within

Yesterday Maria (our second daughter and mother of four) asked for my help and I hesitated. She has been sick with the flu or something. Doris went to help on her usual day and another one this week, and Maria's husband, Matt, took a day off work to help. But she was sort of stuck with today. Doris is with Jacob (our son's, son) all day and thus is not available and so she asked if I could come up and take Rian and Lukas out a bit while Logan sleeps so she could get some rest--and I hesitated.

Actually it was worse. Initially, when Doris asked me, I gave a flat "no." But when Maria asked me directly, I did not say "no" but I did hesitate before saying I would help, and in that hesitation I saw a dark spot in my heart, and I hate myself for it. She heard the hesitation and thus Matt decided to take another day off from work to be at home. No doubt this is a better option anyway in that he will be able to take care of Logan and the others, and will be there all day, which will be better for Maria.

But I still feel bad that I hesitated in the first place. Why? I have been probing my heart as to why ever since. All I can say is that there remains in me a selfish darkness that has yet to be fully redeemed. I had my day planned. I was irritated at some other contributing factors to this situation. I felt it as an intrusion into my life. And in the moment, I hesitated. So what, it was my daughter asking and it was time with some of my grandkids. Dumb. I can be so dumb. Hesitating went against everything I want to be; it violated my heart and left me feeling unclean; it was a sin.

Being on sabbatical made this worse, and it gave me a clearer picture of this selfish place in my heart. If I would have been asked to give up some commitment of time to something else, other than time I had planned for stuff I wanted to do (albeit it "spiritual stuff"), I would not have hesitated. But this was an intrusion into my time; into time given me by the church so that I can work on my issues; and my hesitation showed that life is still too much about me. I hate seeing that and I hate that it is true, but it is.

I have just been reading Fee's exegesis of 1 Corinthians 2:6 through 3:2 wherein he delineates the difference between pneumatikos (spiritual), psuchikos (natural) and sarkinos (fleshly). My response was so very sarkinos, of the flesh, and I so very much want to always be pneunatikos, spiritual. But alas, the psuchikos, the natural man, raises his ugly head and drives me again, back to the grace of God.

So now I have my day back, since Matt is home with the kids, and it just does not feel right. I have made my apologies to Maria and since she knows I love her and the kids, things will be Ok. But there is still this heart thing that I need to contend with, and so in my solitude, I fight my demons. But, not in my own strength.

Henri Nouwen once said ""My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered the interruptions were my work." He is such a wise man.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Power of Solitude

We're back from our road trip and had a great time. We got in on Thursday evening, a few days before we thought we might. But when your done, your done.

I remember a conversation I had with a park custodian in the New York State Park at the Niagara River whirlpool. We were there rather early in the morning and he was emptying trash barrels and the like. I struck up a conversation and he asked where we were from and headed, and told him a bit about our trip. He responded by saying something like, "Traveling is good for a person. You need to get away and see new places and get refreshed. When you get back you will be ready to tackle whatever is there for you." He was a great guy who loved his job and had learned some wise lessons in life. I thought about Tafiya ya fi zauna.

Anyway, a bit to my surprise, getting back from the journey and settling into sabbatical life has not been as easy as I thought it would be. Not sure why. I think some of it is just finding a routine, and some of it relates to my nature of being rather task driven. Normally,my days are full with responsibilities and involve significant contact with people. All great, but taxing. At those times I long for a day alone, but now that I am faced with a lot of alone time, I find it challenging. Henri Nouwen speaks to this in the book I mentioned in my previous post (and which I listed in the side bar of this blog). In his section on the need for solitude, he shares about how in solitude we have to face our issues, or demons, if you wish, and we come face to face with our bare souls. He is so very right, and this part of sabbatical is so very important.

A quote here will suffice:
In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding; no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me--naked, vulnerable , weak, sinful, deprived, broken--nothing. It is this nothingness I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree. Anger and greed begin to show their ugly faces. I give long hostile speeches to my enemies and dream lustful dreams in which I am wealthy, influential and very attractive--or poor, ugly and in need of immediate consolation. Thus I try again to run from the dark abyss of my nothingness and restore my false self in all its vain glory. The task is to preserve in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone...That is the struggle. it is the struggle to die to our false self. But this struggle is far, far beyond our own strength. Anyone who wants to fight his demons with his own weapons is a fool....We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with him and him alone.
(Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, pp 27-30)

I have been experiencing some of what Nouwen defines. It is hard, but so very good. I am surprised at the compulsions that normally drive us, and the places from which we glean our self-worth and value. My position in Christ is my value and my authenticity, not my work, and this time of solitude is taking me to me places in my ability to live in and out of this spiritual relationship.

Though one of the central goals of this sabbatical is to have significant time for solitude, silence and prayer, I am taking some time to reconnect with a number of people who have been important to me in the past. Nouwen points out that solitude leads us to a place of being authentically compassionate. I have said that the move to Ephrata and the demands of leadership in the congregation have taken their toll on some of the friendships we have had outside the church, and Doris and I are taking the advantage of this sabbatical time to reconnect with a few significant people. I do not regret this, only recognize it and want to do some reconnecting.

Yesterday (Monday, Sept 21) I begin my work with Fee's tome, God's Empowering Presence. This book is divided into two sections. The first, and largest (nearly 700 pages) records Fee's exegetical work with all the verses in Paul's writing that deal with the Holy Spirit. I hope to have worked through this section in the next three weeks, taking time to work with some of the scriptures myself. The second section (about 200 more pages) of the book includes Fee's attempt to synthesize the information learned in the exegetical section, into more of a systematic and comprehensive teaching on the the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. (Those of you who are reading Fee's other book, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, are reading a condensed version of this section.)

Yesterday's read included several important insights for me, which I suspect I will blog about in the days to come. One thing I have recognized, and you will notice this in Fee's smaller book as well, is that a recurring theme in relation to the Holy Spirit is joy. I know that there has been a level of joy lacking in my life for the last little while and I also know this has spiritual ramifications. I have been asking God to restore to my soul the Joy of the Lord as I wait on God and study his word.

Please join me in this prayer.
Enough for now.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Last year, before Tim left, the church graciously gave me an extra three weeks off. I was rereading my journal for that time and found my thoughts that I wanted to adopt a simple goal, which I heard first from Mennonite leader, John Drescher, who wrote the book Spirit Fruit. Anyway, the goal has three simple elements to it.

Each day, I purpose to
Speak with God before I speak to anyone else
Read God's Word before I read anything else
Listen for God's voice before I listen to anything else.

Well it was a good goal, but not realized at the time. When I came across this in last year's journal, however, I realized that it was now happening. Since the first day of this sabbatical I have awoken early without an alarm and have been able to have significant uninterrupted time with God, reading, praying listening and worshipping.

I know it will be easier to maintain this while on sabbatical, than it was or will be when I am back to work. While carrying the responsibilities of pastoral work, I often have evening engagements and then when I get home, need to unwind a bit and before I know it, it is 11 pm. Too many days that means I'm not up til 6:00 and then it is often off to a breakfast meeting or to the office by 8:00 and my time with God gets really crowded. And there is always the temptation to check my email or watch the morning news, before I have spoken with God, read his Word or listened for his voice.

I have been rereading Henri Nouwen's The Way of the Heart while meandering the back roads of upper New York state. Drawing from the Desert Fathers of the third and fourth centuries, Nouwen writes about the need for us to experience solitude, silence and prayer, especially those of us in ministry. The book calls me again to be intentional about building these things into my life.

God, I desire you more than anything or anyone else. I confess that I have now given you the time you deserve, often under the excuse of the pressure of your work. How absurd is that! Forgive me. Thank you for doing this new thing in my life, being my early morning alarm clock, and calling me to this place of waiting on you. Amen

A few weeks ago I came across this song by Misty Edwards. Misty leads worship, along with others, at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. I have a bunch of her music, but was not familiar with this one. The song is called "Awaken Me" and the video is from the prayer room where IHOP maintains worship 24/7. This song captures the cry of my heart right now. (If the video does no appear below, visit the blog directly).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Taking it Home

We all have heard the saying that it is the plumber who is fixing everyone else's clogged pipes who has a drain stuck at home that he just never gets around to. Or maybe it is the teacher that does a great job in the classroom who comes home and losses it with the kids.

I think part of this breakdown exists because when we get home we simply do not what to do what we have done all day. We need a break. That makes sense, but it becomes dangerous for the preacher. We see it all the time--the preacher's kids end up going astray. I used to think that was because the kids rebelled because they didn't want to be drug to church all the time. Now I know that is not the case. Often church leaders' families fall apart because the kids see who dad (or mom, if she is the preacher in the family) really is and what they see at church and at home is not the same thing. When this is the case, I do not blame anyone for walking away from the faith. I worked for a short time with a man who was a real bear to work with (he supervised me), but every Thursday evening he prided himself in his attendance at a Christian Business Men's gathering. Every Thursday, as he left work gloating over his sanctity, I left saying if Christian faith produces what I saw in his life, I did not want it. Fortunately, God had another plan, and through a long haired, tattered jeans, converted hippy, I met Jesus.

What does this have to do with my sabbatical. Simply this. For the last long while, I have not had the spiritual relationship at home with Doris that I desired. We have a good marriage, but I often got home and really did not want to do what I did all day with people. That is, pray with Doris and share very much in her spiritual journey. One of my sabbatical goals is simply to rebuild the spiritual foundations of my relationship with the most important person, next to Jesus, in my life. This will take time, but it is beginning on this road trip. We have had opportunity to pray together each day, in the morning and at other times. The pressure is off and I can just be me.

No doubt God wants to take Doris and me to even deeper places in our relationship with each other, and with him, but this new start feels really good. I know as I write this, and as my coach Geoff will read this, he will immediately begin to frame questions that push me to figure out how I maintain this when I am back in the thick of pastoral work. Go for it Geoff.


Tafiya ya fi Zauna

(written Friday morning, Sept 11)

I used this saying from the Hausa culture (the dominate language where we lived in Northern Nigeria) in my sermon on the last Sunday before beginning sabbatical. Loosely translated it means that traveling about is better than staying at home. In planning how I would invest this sabbatical time, my counsel was that on the front end I should take some time to unwind, relax and do some things that I enjoy. When I first heard this Hausa saying years ago, I understood it. Doris and I have always enjoyed travel and have found it refreshing. So we decided (or maybe I did) that at the beginning of my time off, we would do some traveling.

Travel is not new to us, of course. In the early years of our marriage we took a number of road trips with the kids, often connected to attending the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference (which rotates around the USA). That, in addition to preaching and teaching assignments in over a hundred congregations, took us (me) to all but, I think, four of the fifty states. During the last twenty years, we have done a considerable amount of international travel, some of it related to our mission work in Nigeria, so that we have spent some time in a dozen countries on four continents. Just this past June, we were privileged to visit the Dominican Republic (my second time, Doris' first) and help with leadership training for our pastors there.

So when it came to sabbatical, I was feeling like it was time to see some more of the good old USA. In my meandering cyber space, I hit on the Seaway Trail, a combination of roads that skirts Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, from the Ohio/PA line to Massena, NY.

Thus far it has been great. And I was wondering this morning as I woke up "What is it about traveling about that brings refreshment to the soul?"

Part of it is the lack of schedule. I can feel myself unwinding and relaxing. There is no pressure to be anywhere at any specific time, other than I call ahead each evening to make a room reservations for the next night. (Knowing we have a place to stay helps take the pressure off.) This is giving Doris and me uninterrupted time together, and that is another benefit of traveling with someone else.

Part of the refreshment, for me at least, comes from experiencing new places and cultures. Granted, on this trip, the culture is not that much different from back home. And yet, it is different. This kind of road trip allows us the time to meet people along the way. Almost exclusively we are staying at privately owned, mom and pop, motels or B&B's within sight if the water, and eating at local places rather than national chains, and the proprietors at these places are great people. In a time when there is so much increased violence in our world, it does my soul good to meet and chat with everyday working Americans who share the goodness of their hearts with you.

And there is the beauty of this land that God has so graciously given to us to call home. As Doris prayed yesterday morning, she thanked God for the beauty of the world. It is a window into his nature and his heart. Everywhere we have been, not only on this trip, but on every other one, has held wonderful beauty. Seeing and experiencing it, stretches our hearts as well. In all of this, there is also the realization that darkness and evil exist. Wednesday we arrived in Alexander Bay and spent the night there and part of yesterday. As soon as we arrived in the town, I began to feel oppressed. By dinner time, I understood that it was some kind of spiritual darkness that gripped the community. I said something to Doris and she had been feeling it too. The darkness was evident in the somewhat shabby nature of the town, unlike most of the communities along the St. Lawrence. It was weird. From there we traveled the few miles to Clayton, and immediately felt a different feeling. This too is part of the experience of travel, and it confirms for me that there are spiritual cultures that exist in places. The church's mission is to share the Gospel so that darkness is lifted and the Light of Jesus descends, not only on individuals, but on communities as God transforms our broken world.

And last of all, a road trip has to be taken in a car. In this case, we are traveling in the MR2 I resurrected from near death a few years ago. A mid-engine, two seater sports car does not allow for much storage space, so that means we are traveling light and are not able to accumulate much stuff along the way (not that there is anything we need). I am getting a lot of satisfaction from cruising about in a car that I have nearly completely disassembled and rebuilt. It is a sweet ride.

Here are a few pictures to close out this post:

The car, of course, in front of the Tunkhannock railroad viaduct in Nicholson, PA

Sunset over the St. Lawrence from our hotel room, near Massena, NY

Ogdensburg Lighthouse, Ogdensburg, NY

Monday, September 7, 2009


I mentioned in an earlier post that I would blog about where we will attend worship while on sabbatical. Yesterday was the first Sunday, and the end of the first week, of my three month break. As I planned for the sabbatical over the summer months, I was praying about where to attend church. I learned some things from the first sabbatical I had ten years ago while at Conewago (the church I served previous to this one). During those three months Doris and I did not worship at the same church on a regular basis, and in the end, I found that I did not find the refreshment in worship for which I had hoped. Sabbatical gives us the opportunity to worship with our kids at their churches, and it gives me the opportunity to visit a number of churches and learn from what they are doing. That is good and what we did the last time. But by doing so, we missed the consistent worship that only happens when you settle in at one spot for a while.

So going into this sabbatical, I knew I needed a place to plug in on a regular basis. But I also wanted to take some time to worship with our kids and to visit some other churches. The answer to this dilemma would be a church that had a Sunday morning worship service and one at another time during the week, like Saturday evening or something. That way, some weeks I could attend church on Sundays with the kids or where a friend preaches, but also have the consistency of being in the same church for worship. You may remember, if you were there, that last Sunday as I outlined some of my hopes for this sabbatical, I talked about the difficulty I have in worshipping in an undistracted way when I know I am up next to preach.

Another criteria for me was to find a church in our community. We are called to live for Jesus so others may know him in this community. It is our home and our mission. There is value in visiting churches in other communities, and we will do some of that, but the place of our worship needs to be in the Ephrata area.

A third criteria was to find a place that was somewhat different from what I experience at ECOB, just for the experience and for my need to be taken a bit outside of my comfort zone. And fourthly, if the church could somehow be aligned with the journey that I see myself on, one of inner healing and spiritual transformation, that would be all the better.

That was my wish list for a place to worship; a rather tall order. Does such a place exist in our area? As I prayed through this I quickly came to realize that the Ephrata Community Church offers all these things. ECC offers some additional benefits, as well. I work closely with their Executive Pastor, Keven Eshelman, on the Ephrata Ministerium and it is also a congregation with with whom we partner on some community projects. Interestingly enough, a few weeks ago while meeting with a colleague (who has been rather close to me during the spiritual journey of the last few years) he mentioned, unsolicited by me, that he felt I should worship at Ephrata Community while on sabbatical. I took that as confirmation that I made the right choice.

So that is where we were yesterday morning for worship. The pastors asked if they should introduce me to the congregation and I asked them not to, at least not now. I want to remain "under the radar" and simply come as an average joe for worship. Our first Sunday there did feel a tad awkward, and it will take a few weeks to feel at home, but that is OK and in the end, it will meet most, if not all, of the hopes I had for a place to worship. (Amazingly, I did not know a single one of the songs they used for worship, even though one was by one of my favorite artists, Misty Edwards.) It did feel really good just to come to worship where hardly anyone knew me and no one had any expectations of me. I could worship, meditate, read my Bible, and have no other cares. Wow, this will be a great three months.

Road Trip

On another note, we left from church yesterday for our two week road trip to meander the Seaway Trial. Last night we stayed in Wilkes Barre and tonight we will be staying in the Adirondacks, and then Tuesday we will arrive at Massena, NY, which is the northeastern end of the trail. (Google Seaway Trail to learn more.)

Julia, Julia

We got into town early enough yesterday to catch the movie "Julia, Julia" last night. Doris has been wanting to see it, so we went and I was not disappointed. The movie is really two stories; one about how cooking legend Julia Childs begins her cooking career and the other about a contemporary young woman, Julia Powell, who decides to cook through Childs' cookbook in one year. While doing this she blogs about her experience and ends up writing the book by the same name as the movie.

The movie is a fun watch, but more importantly, for me it also carried a spiritual meaning. Even though Julia Powell had never met Julia Childs, she commits herself to following her step by step via a book she had written. Sound familiar. As Julia Powell does this, she talks and blogs about how she feels Julia Childs' presence and about how she carries on conversations with her and about how Childs has changed her life. In the end the young Julia is a transformed person, kinder, more appreciative of life, less of, in her owns words, a "b----." What a metaphor for Christian discipleship.

I encourage you to watch the movie, now or when it comes out on DVD or makes it on TV, and think about the parallels into our life as disciples and disciple makers.

Enough for now

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Apparently when I put links in my posts, as I did in the yesterday's (Open Up the Sky) they do not carry through when my post is forwarded to those of you who get updates via your email. Sorry, I did not know how that works. I guess to visit the links you will need to visit the blog. I will keep this in mind when making new posts. Thanks for staying in touch.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Open Up the Sky

Well it has begun. After all the planning and anticipation, this is already day two of my sabbatical. (And in a hour or so Doris and I will be off to Dutch Wonderland with Lukas and Marci, two of our grandchildren.)

Sunday was a great day for me and for the church. When Carol Bowman (our prayer coordinator) showed up for early service, I figured something was up. If you were there, you know that at the end of both services, she invited people to come up and gather around Doris and me and pray for us as we were being "sent off" on this time of spiritual refreshment. It was a very cool moment for me and much encouragement to see so many of you come up and gather around us and offer your prayerful support. Many thanks!

At second service, the band concluded the service with a song that has had a very special place in my life during the last months or so. I have it listed in my sabbatical playlist on YouTube, along with some other music that speaks to me right now. The song is entitled "Open Up the Sky" and has been made popular by a group called Deluge. Here is a link of them doing the song:

And in case you want to see the words, use this link:

I wrote in an earlier post entitled "Last Fall" about a very significant down time in my life. In that post I mentioned the book The Pressure's Off by Larry Crabb. The thesis of that book is that too many Christians are following God for the blessings that they think God will give them, instead of following God simply for the blessing of his presence in their life. That really spoke to me last fall--actually it changed my life in a number of ways (in conjunction with a conference at Willow Creek). God used those two things--a book and a conference--to encourage me and to lead me to reorient my outlook, which led to a new hope.

Well anyway, this song "Open Up the Sky" captures the thesis of the book and articulates what is now, and has been for a while, the cry of my heart. It is my desire during the sabbatical that I and the church experience the presence of God in deeper ways, new ways and ways that change us. What else is there that really matters?

Thanks to Dean Sensenig (our Director of Music and Worship) for being obedient to God and switching the closing song from whatever he had planned to "Open Up the Sky" as we closed second service on Sunday. (I understand that to do so required overcoming some challenges and it would have been easy to give up.) It was the right thing to do and the right song to launch my sabbatical.