September 4, 2021 | by: Scott Denny | 0 comments
June 5th is the afternoon that would begin a 6-week sabbatical for me, and I can honestly say that as the weeks became days and the start of my sabbatical drew near, a sort of ‘senioritis’ kicked in that I had to fight against.
The anticipation of taking an extended break from ministry began to toy with my mind, and I had to constantly remind myself, “there is still much to do”.
Eventually, that day came - Day One of my sabbatical, and my wife treated me to my first pedicure. I must say, it was pretty nice.
I had a few goals for this sabbatical: To rest my mind. To reflect on the past 20 years of ministry and to prayerfully think through what the next 20 (Lord willing) may look like. To read as many books as possible (historical novels and spy novels filled the bill) and to simply relax and enjoy my wife and children. Yes, I alliterated my goals! REST. REFLECT. READ. RELAX.
Let me say at the outset here, that I am extremely grateful to the elders and to this church body. Those 6 weeks were like none I’ve ever experienced, and they were 6 weeks that I know are not common to be had by most of you reading this. They were a blessing to me, my wife and my children.
I spent hours around the dinner table with my family. Those moments would last upward of two hours at a time because, well, there were no meetings to go to nor were there people to minister to. There was never a reason to go to bed early, which led to late night conversations with my daughter after she returned home from TYG. There were moments spent playing Xbox with my youngest son as we both tried to learn MLB’s The Show 2021 (a baseball game). Yes, I played as the Giants.
I had uninterrupted time with my wife. This was perhaps the most refreshing and cherished time of all. We took a few small trips to Fresno to visit old friends. We spent a weekend in La Jolla visiting with Mariam’s family. We took a weekend trip to Disneyland, and we spent a week in Hawaii toward the end of my sabbatical. While in Hawaii we simply sat on the lawn of our condominium, read books, and stared at the ocean. What a blessing to have so much time with my wife.
Now, as I write all of this, I’m reminded of the time that Mariam and I were walking along the shoreline, enjoying the moments of being alone and collecting sea shells for a friend. The Lord struck me with the memory of John Piper’s famous account of a retired couple who spent their retired years collecting sea shells, playing softball and sailing around on their 30-foot yacht. It all sounds nice, and believe me, having tasted a brief moment of life lived for no one else but me and Mariam, it can be tempting. But, in the end it’s all vanity and chasing after the wind [Ecclesiastes 1:14].
We knew that though this time away and alone was special; it was temporary. In some ways it felt like a dream because it was so special. Nevertheless, I came to realize as my sabbatical came to a close that my purpose, our purpose, the church’s purpose, is to be together [1 Thessalonians 5:11]; to serve one another [Galatians 5:13]; to love one another [John 15:12] and to bear one another’s burdens [Galatians 6:2]. To live a life for Christ, is not one lived in isolation pursuing after the passing pleasures of this world. It is a life lived in pursuit of making much of Christ WITH the Body of Christ.
I prayed the night before the end of my sabbatical, as I prepared to gather with this local body, my cherished friends and brothers and sisters, that I would remember that my life is not my own and my time is not my own.
I prayed that I would remember that I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but that Christ lives in me and that my calling by the Son of God, my Lord and Savior, is to deny myself (my love for rest and relaxation) and to shepherd this flock with the grace and strength and joy that the Spirit provides.
Gathering with this church on Sunday, July 18, was a sweet day for me. I was reminded that being connected to the local church body is such a blessing and an encouragement.
My return to GBC after the sabbatical also reminded me that during these past 18 months, far too many of us have been disconnected from each other. Some of us (too many of us?), I think, have become comfortable doing ‘church’ on our own in front of a TV with breakfast on our laps. Some remain home for health reasons. I get it. That’s okay.
For those who remain home simply because you choose to do so because it’s comfortable, I urge you, by the mercies of God, to make every effort to return to fellowship on Sunday mornings. These times are a grace from God to you. The gathering of the saints is meant to encourage you, to build you up, to strengthen and edify you. Do not forsake the assembly of the saints.
For those who remain home over health concerns, you are in my prayers. I’ve interacted with some of you, and I know you desire to be with the saints. Hang in there. Keep connected to those of us who know you so that we know how to pray for you and so that we can encourage you.
Perhaps you’re reading this newsletter and you’re newer to Grace, and you’re wondering how to get connected. First, let me say, “Welcome!” Second, let us know you’re here. We’ve had a number of families email the office (and even me directly) to introduce themselves. These past 18 months have knocked us out of our rhythm for meeting new people and we need you now more than ever to let us know you’re here. Third, get involved. We have a number of ways you can serve without being a member here. Lastly, join a community group. These are our mid-week fellowships where people gather to uphold one another, pray for one another, love and serve one another.
I guess at the end of the day, I’m so grateful for my time away. I learned that time is fleeting, and I need to make the most of it. 20 years goes by quickly and if the Lord gives me another 20, here at Grace, I hope and pray to serve this church well, with all humility, gentleness and courage that the Spirit provides. I hope and pray that I seize the small moments with my children and seize even longer moments with my wife.
Solomon, as he reflected back on his life, recognized only one thing mattered and that was to fear God and keep his commandments [Ecclesiastes 12:13]. As I reflect back on these last 20 years and look, Lord willing, to the next 20, my desire is to love the Lord with all my heart, serve his church faithfully, and love my family deeply.
Oh yeah, I did get pretty tan, but even that is temporary and already fading away.
Scott Denny is an Elder at Grace Bible Church
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