My church has graciously allowed me to go on sabbatical from June 1- July 31, 2020. For the most part I plan to be off social media. Will the three of you who read my blog, Facebook and Twitter posts be able to get through life without my input? I suspect you will be just fine.
Sabbatical Plan for Michael Wallenmeyer
- What is a sabbatical?
- Day to day ministry is demanding and draining on the life of a pastor. You can go HERE to see some of the sobering statistics. As you look into the writing that is done about sabbaticals for pastors you will find some certain themes. The two primary purposes for a sabbatical is for spiritual renewal and physical rest.
- Drexel Rankin defines a sabbatical like this: “A sabbatical typically includes time for travel, rest, prayer, and the broadening of one’s sense of God’s work in the world—a time to pause, step back, and behold God and creation from a new perspective. Nourishing one’s soul and discovering a new perspective calls for both a change of pace and a change of location. More intentional than simply taking a break, the sabbatical consists of more than just a vacation. This is a time for the pastor to distance self from the demands of leadership, to gain fresh vision and energy—a time to focus on comprehensive renewing and reequipping for long-term ministry. The sabbatical could also be a time when the whole congregation can reflect on its ministry together, perceive new goals, and accept new vision for the future.”
- Dates of my sabbatical: June 1-August 1, 2020
- The specific overall goals of my sabbatical will be:
- To pursue God and to grow deeper spiritually
- Accomplish this by daily reading of Scripture, select books, and prayer
- I will determine, ahead of time, which books I will bring with me and read. I will share this list of books with the elders.
- Ask God to reveal to me areas of sin and weakness. Seek to grow in these specific areas.
- I will keep a journal to record what I am learning and also what I sense God is communicating to me. I want to begin journaling a couple weeks before I begin my sabbatical so I can track my progress.
- I will ask a small group of people to be praying for me and my family the whole time I am on sabbatical. I will give them some ideas/suggestions regarding how they can pray.
- To rest and renew
- The time away will allow me mentally, emotionally and physically to recharge and return to ministry energized.
- I plan on getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
- I plan on exercising by going for walks.
- To ask God to reveal to me how I can better lead and shepherd New Life Church
- To come back to New Life Church with a detailed plan and outline for the next sermon series
- To deepen my relationship with my wife and my children
- Date nights and talks about how we are doing as a couple and as a family
- To learn by attending other churches on Sunday mornings
- Due to the fact that I preach on Sunday mornings I do not have the opportunity to see what other churches are doing. The sabbatical will give me the opportunity to watch and learn from other churches.
- To have an elder call and check on me 1x per week. This will keep us mutually informed about how things are going.
- To spend some time each week working on licensing and ordination within the EFCA
- To pursue God and to grow deeper spiritually
- The specific overall goals of my sabbatical will be:
- Some of the books I am taking with me:
- Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom: “The Ironic Patterns of Biblical Theology: How God Overturns Human Wisdom” (Short Studies in Biblical Theology) by Beale, Gregory K.
- Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc.
by Jethani, Skye
- True Spirituality by Schaeffer, Francis
- Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer by Peterson, Eugene H.
- Other books will be ordered and devoured
See you in August! If you think of it, say a prayer for me (and my family!)
One of the most controversial topics in our culture, and in the church, is the issue of homosexuality. I have found lately that many Christians don’t even want to talk about issues like this because of the possible backlash by their family, friends and peers.
Recently I taught on this issue for about 25 minutes. You can find that talk HERE.
Rachel Gilson, I believe, does a good job of speaking biblical truth in a loving and gracious manner. In her book, “Born Again This Way”, Rachel explains in fascinating detail how she was immersed in a gay lifestyle and the changes that occurred because of her coming to know God and the truths in his Word.
In case you were wondering, I strongly recommend this book to you and anyone who wants to learn more regarding what the bible teaches about same-sex attraction.
Here are a few quotes from the book that stand out to me.
The hilarious theft of Mere Christianity
Not long after, I was in the room of an acquaintance. She was grabbing some item, and as I waited for her in her entryway, I spotted her bookshelf. It featured a small volume called Mere Christianity. The author’s name, C.S. Lewis, rang a faint bell, but I hadn’t been raised on The Chronicles of Narnia so I couldn’t place it. Nevertheless, I desperately wanted to read the book. So I stole it.
What is truth?
In this sense, I was obeying before I understood. To my mind, God’s prohibition on same-sex relationships made no sense. My heart fully embraced the “love is love” narrative-the logical move from “God is love” to “People fall in love” seemed to validate all consensual romantic adult relationships. Weren’t they all potential expressions of this higher reality? This seemed elegant and obvious. I wasn’t craving murder or theft, but love, intimacy, and companionship! I didn’t understand; but would I trust him? Would I take as truth my word or God’s?
Sometimes we wonder why we can’t have something we strongly desire (I thought this quote about the garden of Eden was wonderfully insightful!)
So instead of giving those first humans a law that seemed obvious, God chose one that seemed odd. He told them that they could not eat of one particular tree in their richly appointed garden. Think about that: the law was not to eat a fruit. It sounds almost ridiculous-after all, even vegans eat fruit! How could there be anything immoral in it when it didn’t even require an animal to die? What is the motivation to obey a law that seems nonsensical? It can only be deep trust in the one who asks.
(Now we have to ask how this applies to our views regarding sexuality)
Does it make me weird that I have strong contradictory desires?
How could I be caught between such contradictory desires? On the face of it they should have been mutually exclusive of each other. Yet maybe you too know how it feels to be torn between two camps. Your pull towards something forbidden feels as strong as a super-magnet. But it doesn’t extinguish your opposite pull toward Jesus, your real desire to honor him. You feel that you could be ripped down the middle. While the experience is alarming, God’s word assures us that it’s a challenge which is normal for the Christians.
Our desires are not a reliable compass
Perhaps you’ve heard a modern version of this blame shift. Our culture says that all sexual expression and desire is good and right, as long as there is consent. If you feel it, do it! So we conclude, “I feel these desires sincerely. I didn’t ask for them, therefore they must be from God. God doesn’t make mistakes.” This is just a different way of shifting the burden to God. Saying that those desires are from God simply because they exist is a confusion between God’s perfect will-what he desires actively for humanity-and God’s permissive will: that which he allows given the circumstances of redemptive history. He is clear throughout Scripture that our desires are not a compass for goodness because they are broken. He is the compass for goodness, and he tells us plainly what pleases him and what will result in our thriving.
Sometimes those who claim to love God give us really bad advice about sexuality
Our desires whisper lies in our ears. They gather steam from our culture and shout over any objections. For those of us who experience same-sex attraction, the danger is very real. Every piece of our culture is going out of its way to affirm that impulse that exists unchosen in us. Everywhere we turn, someone is telling us that freedom is found in obeying these desires. Sometimes the voice comes from those we trust most in this world: those who claim to love God.
Leaving sin can be agonizing
For those of us with same-sex attraction, denying those desires will feel like death, because it is. When I left Anna, it was agony every day for months. Yet it as completely worth it, just as Jesus had promised that we would gain our lives only by losing them.
Same-sex attracted people have a powerful ministry to offer the church
That grew eventually, like a pearl that takes years of irritation to form, into a realization that same-sex attracted Christians have unique and powerful ministries-that is, we serve the church and the world through our example of obedience. How so? Because we witness powerfully to the beauty of Jesus over romance. Because we embody the necessity of relying on him alone to choose holiness. And because we prophetically call the church to honor God and neighbor by neither taking away from nor adding to God’s word on sexuality.
What would it take to live a life of celibacy?
To choose celibacy, Jesus must be really precious to you. What a chance to testify that he is! What an opportunity to call into question the narrative of salvation-by romance, and to point to what all love dimly reflects. And not just with your words, but, like an Old Testament prophet, with your life. You only give up something awesome for something even better. I could only give up the pleasures of a girlfriend-even someday a wife-for the more pleasurable embrace of Christ.
The power of the beauty of Christ
Without the beauty of Jesus, we won’t leave the safety of our LGBT family.
Turning romance into an idol
I am persuaded that most people in the church have a vision of marriage as the consummation of romance, inseparable from it. This is why so many of us tend to end our marriages when the romance sputters. Too many decisions to marry are not calculated with everything in mind, because romance is present and strong. It reminds me of Jesus’s words in Luke 14:28: “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”
One of the greatest deceptions of the modern West is the idea that you are not truly happy-or even truly alive-until you’ve found your soulmate.
Church must be a safe place to talk about these issues
I’m convinced that for both of us, being able to identify our attractions without shame early on has helped us to process them later in a healthy way in Christ. By contrast, many people who grow up in the church did not find it to be a safe place in which to discuss same-sex attraction, let alone to admit to experiencing it.
Should you call yourself a “gay Christian”?
And what then about the language question? Should you call yourself a “gay Christian”? Or should you use language like “same-sex attracted”?
I worry that calling oneself a gay or queer Christian creates too much opportunity for this part of our lives to shape our identities in ways that are unhelpful-to perhaps close us off from things God may want to do, or allow types of compromise with attraction. It’s all too easy to slide from recognizing something as true about myself to seeing it as the truth about myself. I want us to be sober and watchful in our language choices.
Let’s be kind and gracious to one another
But above all, I want us to be charitable to ourselves and toward each other. The stories of what God is doing may surprise, delight, or alarm us. Let’s listen to each other rather than shutting one another down. Let’s admonish one another in love, rather than firing shots at each other on social media. Let’s warn each other of sin, and point each other to the confounding grace of our Savior, rather than condemning one another as heretics or Pharisees without so much as a trial.
Conspiracy theory: a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators. -Merriam-Webster
Lately we have been witnessing a vast number of conspiracy theories on social media and on the news. I have not run a formal poll, but it seems like right now there are more conspiracy theories floating around than normal. I have little doubt that this is due to the fact that Covid-19 has changed the way we live everyday life.
Within the time-frame of one week, I received two messages from friends talking about what is going on right now in our world and thinking that it might be leading to the mark of the beast and the end times.
A couple of years ago I preached through the entire book of Revelation. I had people like David Jeremiah calling me and asking me my opinion regarding the end times and biblical prophecy. (Before you share that information with someone you might want to fact check it.) I believe that the book of Revelation does speak of things happening now and that will also take place in the future. So let’s be clear, I believe in the Anti-Christ, a time of Great Tribulation, the mark of the beast and the Second Coming Of Jesus.
I believe in these things with all of my heart, but we must be wise how we interpret the “signs” we see in our world today.
So, here are a few of my thoughts as we seek to live wisely in our day and time…
Research big time before you post it
If you hear about a theory that has to do with Bill Gates, the mark of the beast, or Covid-19, then research it thoroughly before you post it online. I believe that all too often people are doing little to no investigation on their own (“hey everyone, this looks interesting”) before they share something with the general public. Do some research. HERE is a link that gives some guidelines when it comes to being able to know if your source is reliable or not. Yes, it is work, but isn’t that better than passing along false information? If your theory is related to the end times, spend time on your own searching the Scriptures.
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. -Acts 17:11
If you have done the hard work/research and have prayed about it, feel free to share it
We live in a country where we cherish our freedom of speech. If you have done the hard work of looking into it, and you have come to the point where you believe it is necessary to share it, then go for it. My point is NOT that we can’t talk about our beliefs regarding the end times and the mark of the beast. My point is that we must be wise regarding how we do it.
Don’t make the tragic mistake of substituting your online post for the Great Commission
This is really my main concern in all of this! I am worried that Christians are posting things online (taking a stand) and then feeling like they have done what God has called them to do. Jesus lived in a time when world leaders were thoroughly evil and working with all their power against the kingdom of God (Matthew 2:16-18).
So in light of this we might wonder, how did Jesus spend his time? What did Jesus focus on? We want to take our cues from Jesus, right? We know the answer. Jesus built relationships and made disciples who made disciples. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 is the main calling of the church and the Christian.
The online post is easy. It’s safe. It’s within our comfort zone. We can do it in our pajamas while sitting on our couch. We don’t have to listen, show empathy, or really engage with people on a deep level. As someone else has said, making disciples is God’s Plan A for changing the world, and there is no Plan B.
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” -Matthew 4:19
Feel free to speak up, but let’s remember that we most closely walk in the ways of Jesus when we commit to making disciples.
Our mission as a church is to make disciples who make disciples. Our vision is the way in which we go about living out our mission. With that said, our vision as a church is “Deeply Rooted in Six Counties.” We want to be a church that is growing deeper in our relationship with God, with people in the church, and those in the six counties all around us. We asked Pastor and author, Jeff Vanderstelt, to do some teaching about how we can grow more deeply in the glorious truths of the gospel. Jeff is the Teaching Pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. He is asked on a regular basis to write and speak about the gospel and how it applies to everyday life. Recently, Jeff wrote the excellent book, Gospel Fluency. Below is the video of the teaching that Jeff did for us.
HERE are some discussion questions that you or your Life Group could use to deepen your understanding and appreciation of the gospel.
HERE is an interview I did with Jayne, Jeff’s wife, many years ago.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. -Galatians 3:23-24
Part of successfully learning to drive a car is knowing when to push the brake and the gas pedals (a clutch makes it even more complicated). If we don’t know how to use the pedals in our car it makes for a miserable driving experience. When it comes to the Christian life there are two pedals that we can push down at different times, law and grace. I think that many times we make ourselves miserable as Christians when we use these pedals incorrectly. Allow me to explain.
The pedal called law
The law is the moral standard, given in God’s Word, for how we are to live. The law highlights God’s moral code and at the same time it shows us how we fail to live up to it (Galatians 3:24).
Here is a verse that I am citing as an example as one of God’s laws, And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” -Leviticus 19:1-2
Indicators you are misusing this pedal
- You begin to hate yourself for your lack of spiritual growth
- You quietly wonder if you should just give up on Christianity because you see so little spiritual transformation
- You wish you had more joy and gratitude in your life
- You spend long periods of time after you have sinned doubting if God wants to have anything to do with you
It can shift from not being gracious with ourselves to not being gracious with others…
- You are judgmental and mean-spirited towards others when it comes to their lack of spiritual growth
- You don’t have people opening up to you and talking to you about their struggles because they know you are lacking in grace
- You have never been referred to as a friend of sinners
- You become very prideful because you think (self-deceived) that you are doing a decent job obeying the law and you are not sure why others can’t do the same thing
The pedal called grace
Grace is the amazing fact that because we broke God’s law, Jesus came to this earth, died on a cross, took our sins upon himself, rose again, and if we embrace Jesus by faith we are liberated from sin and death. We also know from Scripture that we are no longer under the law, we are now under grace (Romans 6:12-14).
Here is a verse that I am citing to give you an example of the grace of God, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -1 John 1:9
Sometimes the abuse of grace is referred to as hyper-grace or antinomianism. Here is how one writer defines hyper-grace, “The term hyper-grace has been used to describe a new wave of teaching that emphasizes the grace of God to the exclusion of other vital teachings such as repentance and confession of sin.”
Indicators you are misusing this pedal
- You are no longer taking personal sin seriously
- You talk about the love of God but not so much about the holiness of God
- You almost never confront someone about their sins
- You talk about a messy life, a broken life. There is a hesitancy to call it what it is, sin
- You are just way too comfortable with where you are at spiritually
- Preachers who misuse this pedal rarely talk to their church about the dangers of sin
Just so you know, I constantly struggle when it comes to using these two pedals in my own life. I talk about the gospel ALL THE TIME, yet I can fail to apply it to my life. I can swing from self-loathing to making excuses for my sin in a split-second.
Here is my suggestion when it comes to how we can stop making ourselves (and others) miserable because we are misusing the pedals of law and grace
In my opinion, here is the key in all of this. The most important thing we need to do is simply become aware of the problem in the first place. Some of us have become worn out and miserable as Christians and the truth of the matter is that we are not even aware of what the root problem is. We are struggling spiritually but we are lacking a diagnosis. It may be a matter of misusing the pedals of law and grace. So, I believe it is incredibly helpful just to be aware of this problem so that we can make some adjustments in our thinking.
Once we have begun to see the problem in our own life we can take it to God in prayer. Ask God to give you a more balanced perspective and not to abuse one pedal or the other. We should allow the laws of God, his moral laws, to convict us and point us to our ongoing need for Jesus. Yet, at the same time we can quickly rejoice that because we are in Christ we are forgiven. We don’t need to walk around with a sense of guilt and shame because of the work of Jesus on the cross.
Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Is this something you struggle with?
Our vision as a church is “Deeply Rooted in Six Counties.” We want to be a church that is growing deeper in our relationship with God, with people in the church, and those in the six counties all around us. With that said, we have asked Pastor and author, Jeff Vanderstelt, to do some teaching about how we can grow more deeply in the glorious truths of the gospel. Jeff is the Teaching Pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. He is asked on a regular basis to write and speak about the gospel and how it applies to everyday life. Recently, Jeff wrote the excellent book, Gospel Fluency. On Sunday, May 17th, 6:00 PM, from the safety and comfort of your own home, you can join us for this unique opportunity.
The teaching can be found at: http://www.newlifeefree.org
We see changes in our culture and it is freaking us out
It has been written and said that we are living in a post-Christian culture. A post-Christian culture can be defined as “a culture where the Christian faith and worldview no longer has a dominant influence in society.” Many of us were brought up in a world where there was common ground when it comes to absolute truth and morality. That is definitely not the case any more. The problem is the way in which Christians are responding to the changing culture. Out of fear and insecurity about the loss we are experiencing we have become angry and have begun to fight a culture war.
We need to understand what is going on beneath the surface in the hearts and minds of the people all around us
What we need to do is stop and realize that the arguments we are having are, for the most part, symptoms of something much deeper. Let’s take sexuality for example. Many Christians are shocked regarding how our culture’s view of sexuality has changed. So, what do we do? We will argue with people (very rarely in person) about the issue of sexuality. What we normally find is that our arguments have very little power to change anyone’s mind. Why do you think that is true?
The reason that it is true is due to the fact that their world views have completely changed. Our culture’s view of truth, gender, and morality have changed massively over the years. Think of it this way, we are arguing with people about the software when the real problem is the hardware. It might just be possible that our “conversations” are having little impact because they are not going deep enough.
We need to go beyond throwing truth grenades and look to build relationships
So what do we do? One main idea that I keep expressing time and time again is that we need to build actual relationships. We have to give up the idea that the hard hitting meme we post or the political rant is going to make any difference. All that it is going to do is push people away and make it less likely that they will ever come to know the Truth personally.
Imagine this for a moment. Christians, working hard to build old-fashioned relationships with people who are very different from them. Listening. Showing genuine empathy. Asking lots of questions. Being open to the idea that we can learn from others who come from very different backgrounds. It is in the context of a relationship that we can go beyond the surface and talk about the basis, or the foundation, for what we say we believe. The online post or rant is easy, and if we are honest, it feels good to throw out an occasional truth grenade and pretend that we actually accomplished something positive. To go deeper in relationship will come about only when we love people more than we love winning an argument. But the question we are faced with is this, will we take the time, get out of our comfort zone, and actually build relationships with people very different from us?