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Ministry Reimagined

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It got here quickly – my ministry sabbatical.  The elders approved a sabbatical for me, back in February of 2017.  However, given a number of critical ministry concerns including a significant staff reduction as well as the strategic Mission Advancement and Implementation process that we began in late 2016, that sabbatical was postponed until July-August 2018.  And now it’s almost here! But what is a sabbatical and what does it mean for our ministry at Redeemer?  This article will try to address that.

What is a Sabbatical?

“A ministry sabbatical as a period of time, usually three months, when ministry leaders and congregations set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry.  A ministry sabbatical is not an extended vacation nor is it an academic sabbatical that normally involves extensive study. A ministry sabbatical is a release from the routine of the call for the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual well-being of the ministry leader.  The word sabbatical is drawn from Sabbath. The Hebrew word for Sabbath means to “close or rest” and is connected with the last day of Creation when God rested. (Genesis 2:3) God both models and commands Sabbath rest for his people. “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)  Jesus affirmed the importance of rest saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) The Biblical example of Jesus’ own frequent withdrawal to a quiet place to meditate, pray and be renewed is a model. In His ministry, the constant demands of people led Jesus to step away on a regular basis.  See also: Genesis 1 and 2; Exodus 20:8-11, 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7 (Sabbatical Year), 24:8-25 (Year of Jubilee); Psalm 23; and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.” – From the website: https://ministrysabbaticalresources.com/

As I mentioned in a recent sermon, a number of people have told me that I have “earned it” or “deserve it.”  I know that the thought and sentiment is good, but my typical response in to say, “thank you very much.  But the truth is, I *need* it.”  I am truly grateful that the congregation is affording me the blessing and gift of this time away, but the reason that our synod and districts recommend regular and intentional sabbaticals for their pastors is because what has been observed is that the regular and sustained demands and pace of ongoing ministry have a cumulative effect[i].  After periods of four to seven years, there is a very real need for a season of rest, recovery, and renewal in order to maintain the energy, focus and emotional and spiritual health that are necessary to lead a congregation – especially in these challenging times.

Sharpening the Saw

In the well-known, and often referenced, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the last of the seven habits is often overlooked, but can become the most impactful if neglected – “Sharpen the Saw.”  Just like a carpenter or lumberjack must work harder and harder when their tools get dull, so must ministry leaders.  At those times, it takes determination and intentional effort to stop work, halt the production line, and tend to the care of the tools.  However, it is far better to stop working with dull tools for a moment and return refreshed and retooled, than to continue forging ahead with ineffective tools.  Otherwise what ends up happening is that eventually the work will grind to a halt as the tool becomes completely dull or broken altogether.  The analogy is clear.

What Happens During the Sabbatical?

People have asked me, “where are you going on your sabbatical?”  The short answer is that I don’t completely know the physical or geographical locations that I will be going during this time away.  But the location is not as important as what will occur during the sabbatical.  Sabbaticals can be taken in different ways for different purposes.  Some professionals take sabbaticals to complete a writing project or some creative work that just can’t get the attention it needs in the midst of the day-to-day.  Others take sabbaticals to gain new experiences through travel or exploration.  Others take sabbaticals to dive deeper into learning a particular topic or subject matter.  And some take sabbaticals for rest and renewal.  The latter is the purpose of my sabbatical.  I intend to use the time to simply draw near to God and rest in Him – enjoying His Word, His creation and His blessings of family and good health.   I also intend to use the time to discover old and new spiritual disciplines as well as establish new and fresh patterns of balance between work and life; you could say, “Ministry Reimagined.”

What Does this Mean for Redeemer?

“Ministry Reimagined” is my theme for this Sabbatical.  And I am applying that to our congregation as well.  It’s not uncommon for pastor and congregation to follow similar trajectories.  I believe that Redeemer also finds itself in a season of needing refreshing and renewal.  And I believe that our congregation can benefit from using this Summer as a chance to receive from, be nurtured by and be refreshed by God.  But even moreso, I believe that both pastor and congregation will benefit from using this as an opportunity to “reimagine” the ministry that God has called us to in this place.

Just as I find myself in a season of being stretched too thin and regularly engaged in a flurry of activity, that while good, doesn’t seem to be accomplishing those things that God ultimately desires for His people … so too does Redeemer find itself in a similar season, wouldn’t you agree?  It is likely that we find ourselves in this place because of how we’ve “imagined” God desires us to accomplish His will in this place.  It’s possible that we’ve placed our effort, our attention and our resources on doing the urgent rather than the important.  It’s possible that we’ve actually been working out of our own strength, will-power, knowledge and abilities (the flesh), rather than relying on God, seeking Him and walking with Him in the Spirit. What both pastor and congregation need to do is to reimagine how God wants us to do ministry together, with Him.

Ministry Reimagined

This is in fact what the Mission Advancement and Mission Implementation Teams been working on – setting up a construct for us doing ministry together in productive Spirit-filled ways that align with the ministry calling that God has given us.  In other words, not just “doing ministry” but intentionally focusing our efforts on being the people that God has called us to be and doing what He has called us to do.  To do this we need clarity on who we are at Redeemer, what we are doing in our ministry together, how we are doing it, and most importantly why we are doing it.  That’s ministry reimagined.

I am excited to begin sharing with you what God has been laying on my heart, and how He is directing the leadership of our church when I return in September.   Also at that time, we will begin a bi-weekly time of gathering, growth and shared “imagining” of what our ministry is all about.  These meetings are open to anyone, but ultimately are for those who want to be used by God in ministry at Redeemer.  Together we will allow God to melt us, mold us, and reshape us to better reflect His image in this place.  That’s ministry reimagined.

Amen!  May it be so, for Jesus’ sake,

Pastor Augie

[i] See Sabbatical Planning For Clergy and Congregations, Richard Bullock, Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 1975

Daring Faith

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Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, The Boogie Man, UFO’s … these are all things I used to believe in.  Well, maybe I still do believe in UFO’s a little! 🙂   It’s funny for me to think of things in which I used to put my faith, that ultimately hold no power, and are not real.    I wonder how many people today put their faith in things that are not real and hold no power – and yet they believe in them?  With just a moment’s thought one can come up with a hearty list of false gods in which people trust.  It ranges from money to tummy.  Oh how much better for us as Christians!  We put our faith in God who continues to reveal Himself and demonstrate His power on a regular basis, and has done so for millennia.

The Reformation of 1517 emphasized and brought clarity to this very important tenet of doctrine – that we are saved by grace, thru faith alone! … Sola Fide in Latin.  But what do we mean when we say “faith?”  In what (or better in whom) do we place our trust?  And what does that then mean for us?  That will be the topic of our new message series starting in May – “Daring Faith.”  When you and I dare to believe it means that we will not only find comfort and peace through what we believe, but we will find the strength to rise to new challenges that results from that faith! God asks us not just to believe … but to put our faith into action.  Said another way, if we believe something it should affect the things that we think, say and do.

Certainly our knowledge that the Son of God entered our world to live and die for us, but rose from the grave and is alive and reigning on His throne in heaven, should prompt us to live with a confidence and hope that affects our actions.  Let us not settle for merely daring to believe – but for daring to let our faith affect our life!

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:17

On Easter Sunday this year, we discussed what we believe about Jesus – His life, death and resurrection; and why we believe it – the evidence and testimony revealed and recorded in the Bible.  Now in this series we will discuss how this faith changes us – transforming the way we view and interact with our world!

  • May 20What Happens When You Have Faith – We will learn what happens when we see with eyes of faith instead of eyes of fear.
  • May 27Daring to Give God My Best – We will learn from the Biblical examples of a soldier, an athlete and a farmer how to give our very best to God.
  • June 3Daring to Imagine – We will learn how our imagination and our faith work together to cause us to dream “God-sized” dreams and imagine the world the way that God already sees it!
  • June 10Daring to Commit – We will explore our deepest needs in life, and the importance of making commitments in each of these areas.  Doing so will strengthen our faith and our relationships with others.
  • June 17Daring to Plant in Faith – We will look at God’s laws of planting and harvesting.  From them, we will learn that our relationships, our health, our finances, our careers, and other areas of our life follow the same laws.
  • June 24Daring to Wait on God.  We will learn what we need to remember when we’re in the waiting room of life.  And we will learn what to do while we wait.  We will find that even our waiting is being used by God.

My prayer for you is the prayer that St. Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…” – Ephesians 1:18-20

Amen!  May it be so, for Jesus’ sake,

Pastor Augie

Stones Cry Out …

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[Jesus] answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

PA & Mom – picture taken at Redeemer October, 2017

Unfortunately, I spent the bulk of February in Buffalo, New York with my mom who is suffering from complications from a relatively straightforward surgery that went wrong.   She’s 83 and a strong-willed woman with great faith.  It’s those things that have enabled her to endure almost a month of being confined to bed in a hospital with tubes and wires vexing her body; and she has handled this with grace and patience.  In so doing however, she’s witnessed to our family (near and extended) as well as a boatload of caregivers, doctors and custodial workers, that even when we’re down, Christians cry out to God.  And we don’t just cry out in our need, we cry out in praise!

Family, friends and hospital workers have witnessed groups of loved ones circled around my mom in prayer multiple times a day – not just keeping vigil over my mom – but praying with her.  And they have seen her holding hands and making the sign of the cross after every prayer.  She cannot speak because of breathing tubes and ventilators obstructing her vocal cords … but she has done everything within her power to witness to God’s unfailing love, reminding herself and all of us where our only hope lies – in Jesus, our Lord, and His saving work on the cross.

As we round the corner into March, soon it will be Palm Sunday.  And my mom’s predicament reminds me of something Jesus said when He entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, as crowds were gathered to celebrate the Passover.  People were shouting and singing joyfully “Hosanna” – which means “save us!”  They couldn’t help it.  Their deepest need, and their greatest joy, was welling up in a song of hope!  But there were some religious leaders who heard this shouting and they reprimanded Jesus saying, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (Luke 19:39).  To which Jesus answered,  “I tell you, … if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40).

Jesus says that even those with the inability to speak … would praise Jesus anyway! My mom can’t speak, but she is crying out to Jesus anyway – in both her need, and also in thanksgiving and joy, trusting Him to graciously provide for her as He has always done.

So often we feel as though we can only proclaim Jesus when things are going well.  And in some ways, that’s what the Palm Sunday crowd did. They praised Him for all the miracles they had seen Him do.  They cried out to Him when they were hopeful that He would show His power and might in the ways they wanted Him to do.   But as the prospects turned grim and the horizon turned dark, they one by one fled.  And instead of crying out to Jesus, they only cried.

And yet, the stones did cry out in their place as it were.  There was a great earthquake as Jesus was crucified.  The earth shook and the rocks split (Matthew 27:51). Even the tombs broke open, and the dead were raised to life! (Matthew 27:52).  And then after three days, the stones cried out again as Jesus rose from the dead! There was a violent earthquake and an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone that covered Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 28:2).  Even when the outlook was bleak …  even those things that couldn’t speak … found a way to cry out praise to the Lord!

There are many times when I find that I keep my mouth – my very able-bodied mouth – shut, when I should be crying out to God.  I keep my mouth shut when I should be crying out “Save us, dear Jesus!”  I keep my mouth shut when I should be singing “Great are you Lord!” I keep my mouth shut when I should be shouting “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”  Oh that you and I would cry out with our very capable voices while we are able to speak.

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.
– Isaiah 52:8

Perhaps this Holy Week and Easter, which is only a few weeks away, would be a good time for you to speak up and witness to the Lord with your friends and family.  They too have much to be thankful for, and many needs to bring to God.  They too have mouths which were created to cry out to God.  Perhaps use this Newsletter as a tool with which to shout for Joy and sing God’s praises?

Joyfully proclaiming Jesus with you!

 Pastor Augie

Reformation 2017 – It’s Still about Jesus

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“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJV

I distinctly remember sitting in a Lutheran Church in Arizona – well into my adulthood – when I first really grasped the Grace of our Lord’s Gospel.  I remember the pastor preaching and it hit me right between the eyes: I was not saved by any amount of my good works… but wait! I thought that was the point of keeping the Commandments? … No, while my obedience was good, it would never be good enough to earn me salvation or somehow to make me worthy of the eternal blessings of God.  Those would only be received as a free gift – given by the Grace of God because of the completed and perfect work of Jesus Christ on the cross!  I would never be able to be so good as to merit this favor, and I would never be able to be so bad as to be unforgiven of all my sins.  Wow.  In that moment, I truly felt lighter.

And in that moment, this former Catholic perhaps had more in common with Martin Luther than do many life-long Lutherans.  Why is that?  Because what I experienced – being freed from condemnation of the Law through the Grace of God in Christ (Romans 8:1) – is what Martin Luther personally experienced that sparked the Reformation some 500 years ago in Wittenberg Germany!  I can relate to being under the same crushing effects of guilt and shame that drove Luther to spend hours in the confessional as he tried to lead a pure monastic lifestyle through which somehow to attain God’s Righteousness.  But it was in that struggle, under the fear of condemnation, that Luther stumbled upon the merciful offer of comfort found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The verse “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17) held special meaning for Luther.  This verse used to plague him with fear, because he knew he was not righteous before God, due to his many sins.  But one day, the light of the Gospel broke through to him and he saw clearly that Scripture points to the source of the righteousness we need.  It is in fact God’s righteousness given to us by faith (faith alone!) not our own righteousness that saves us.  And for the struggling sinner – me, Luther, you – this is music to our ears!

So with a heart full of renewed hope, Luther set out to release the Gospel from the obscurity it had known under centuries of the Papacy.  Such atrocities had developed, that poor sinners were filled with fear believing that they would be condemned for their sin, with no hope other than to pay for “indulgences” with money, or suffer punishment in purgatory – a spiritual sort of waiting room before entrance into heaven.  Unfortunately, man loves the darkness, and the Good News of freedom in Christ that Luther shared was not well received by his contemporaries.  The rest is “history” as they say.  There are a number of good documentaries and even a new movie coming to a theater in our area (see www.luthermovie.link/SanMarcos) that teach about the Lutheran Reformation that began five centuries ago in late October 1517.

Our church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, even has a website (https://lutheranreformation.org) dedicated to providing all sorts of resources regarding the Reformation.  I particularly like the phrase they use for this quincentennial celebration: “Reformation 2017 – It’s Still All about Jesus.”  Yes, it has been 500 years since the Reformation; and while many things in our culture have changed in that timespan, one thing has not changed, and that is what the Reformation was about: Jesus.  It was about freeing lost, condemned, guilty and burdened souls with the life-giving and freeing Gospel of Jesus Christ then … and it still is now!  So as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation at Redeemer by the Sea, we do so not only looking backward – but looking outward toward the lost and hurting people who need Jesus and His Grace as much today as they did 500 years ago!

You hear me talk a lot about “mission” … that we are a people who are “Joining Jesus on His mission” to seek and save the lost.  It truly is mission-critical work that we are always about – sharing the message of the Gospel with those who need to hear it.  Luther did it in his day, in his way, and we do it today, in our way.  The people that we encounter today may not be worried about whether they will spend years in purgatory… but they are worried and weighed down with a great many things. And they need to hear about Jesus.  As Luther said, “God doesn’t need your good works.  Your neighbor does.”  Please put the freedom and joy that you experience as a saved soul, certain and firm in your salvation, into action loving and serving your neighbor as the hands and feet of Christ.

Even Paul’s great words of comfort in the much-loved-by-Lutherans verses of Ephesians 2:8-9, are followed by this very important verse: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  Fear of God’s judgment doesn’t spur us into mission.  No, our freedom in the Gospel does!  I believe the best way that we can celebrate the Reformation is to carry on Luther’s work of sharing the Truth of God’s Word with lost and hurting people, relieving their consciences and freeing their souls.

It’s Still All About Jesus,

Pastor Augie

The Good Life!

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“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” – Philippians 3:8, NIV

What do you think of when you hear the expression The Good Life?  In this beautiful area of the country that we call home, The Good Life might mean for some enjoying a sunset at the beach … (I would have a hard time arguing with that one!) It might mean having a successful career, beautiful home and two paid off cars in the driveway … It might mean having enough money to take vacations … It might mean having the health to enjoy all those things.  For each of us, this phrase The Good Life conjures up images of things we hope for and expectations we have set for ourselves.  The group of eleven of us from Redeemer who attended the week-long mission trip to San Diego spent time each day considering this phrase personally and then exploring Scripture to see how God would want us to understand The Good Life.

What we learned is that we are created for The Good Life.  Jesus says in John 10:10 “… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  God created everything “good” in the Garden of Eden, but mankind and our sin tarnished that beauty and goodness.  God, however, never gives up restoring us to The Good Life.  Through His Son Jesus, He continues to bring us to a full and good life.

We can trust this because we believe that God Himself is good.  (Psalm 106:1 declares, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”) And in His goodness, He wants good things for His people (Psalm 139:5).  But how does one respond when we see so much brokenness and lack of goodness in the world around us?  God may be good, but evil still has power in this world, and it seems that it is bound and determined to thwart whatever good God wants to bless His creation with.

Unfortunately, when faced with pain, suffering and brokenness we humans are often led astray by false imitations of The Good Life that God intends for us.  Have you ever tried to solve your problems with a false imitation?  Didn’t it promise you relief, pleasure and even freedom? But what did it deliver?  The truth is that if you and I are to grasp the only true source of The Good Life that Jesus offers us, we are going to have to let go of cheap imitations – to make room for the goodness that God wants to pour into our lives!

What each of us needs to realize as we journey through life is that The Good Life is found only in Jesus Christ. He is the Good Shepherd who guides us to where the green pastures are.  We do best to follow Him – and to bring others to Him also.  If you have found The Good Life, don’t you think there are others who would like to know where to find it?  The problem is that just like in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), it can be so easy to pass along on the other side of the street – having even some very good reasons to do so.

But as we have been learning from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians during our summer “Joy” message series, we should put ourselves on the line for the good of others.  In Philippians 2:4 Paul clearly tells us to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs!  But if we do that, then won’t we sacrifice our own reception of The Good Life?   The answer is no.  To the contrary; what we have received from Jesus is meant to be shared!  When Jesus served His disciples by washing their feet, He gave them instructions to go and do likewise.  (John 13:15)

What Jesus knows is what the Apostle Paul eventually learned and wants us to know and live out as well – and that is that we truly experience joy and enjoy The Good Life, as we serve others.  In fact, this joy is so great that it would be worth letting go of everything we have in this world in order to grasp, Paul says (Philippians 3:8).  All of those cheap imitations offer only a false and partial experience of the surpassing greatness of knowing and serving Christ.

May you and I learn to experience The Good Life, by loving and serving others with what we have received freely from Jesus Christ – for our good and for His glory!

Joyfully sharing Jesus with you,

Pastor Augie

The Return of Jesus Christ

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“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  –  Matthew 24:44

One of the highlights of this study on the book of Revelation for me will remain last Sunday’s Children’s Message at the 8:30 service, when I asked the children the question, “What can you do to get ready for Jesus to come back to earth?”  I expected the kids to say things like “pray.” “go to church.” “read the Bible.” “be good.” … or to just be confused and not know what to do to be ready.  That’s when little Maggie (who just turned 5!) raised her hand. After hemming and hawing a bit, she cautiously offered this response, “we could have a party?”

And I immediately thought, “what a great response!” So often we are encouraged to look for that day when Jesus returns with either fear or at least delay.  One time when I was a child, a preacher asked the congregation, “who wants Jesus to return?” And everybody’s hand went up! … Then he asked, “who wants Him to return tomorrow?” … and almost nobody raised their hand.  Why?  If we know that Jesus is going to come to bring us home with Him.  If we realize that once Jesus returns there will be no more sadness, evil, pain or brokenness.  If we realize that when Jesus returns we will spend forever content in the new heavens and new earth.  And if we realize that we are made ready for the coming judgment, not by how good we have been, but because God declares us righteous through our baptisms and our faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross … then why would we want to delay that reply?  Why wouldn’t we do just what Maggie suggested, and throw a party?

I hope and pray that in your heart, you are looking forward to Jesus return with the joy and anticipation you would look forward to a party.  And I hope and pray that when Jesus returns, He will feel received by us as the guest of honor at a party just for Him!  May it be so, for the sake of Christ!

Ready for Christ’s return with you,

Pastor Augie

Daily Bible Reading

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Have you determined to read the Bible Daily – maybe as part of your New Year’s Resolutions … or your 2013 “Plan for Purpose?”  I hope you have!  We all should be reading and studying the Bible daily.  At Redeemer by the Sea, we encourage using the “Life Journal” as a means of getting into God’s Word daily.  If you don’t already have a Life Journal, let me know and I can help get you one.  But how do you use the Life Journal?  Let me show you a VERY SIMPLE, YET POWERFUL devotional method that you can use with your Life Journals.  It will help you:

      1. get more out of your daily devotions.

      2. be more regular in your devotion time. 

      3. learn and remember more Scripture.

      4. start a regular devotional pattern if you don’t already have one.

This practice can be transformational for you… it has been for me!.  It is very easy, and while the Life Journal provides a reading plan that will help you read the Bible in one year, you can use the Life Journal, and this devotional method with any Bible reading plan, and with any notebook or even the computer.

Here’s how it works…Just remember the acronym “SOAP”:

1.“S” SCRIPTURE. Read whatever Scripture is on your plan to read for that day.  It is important to have a PLAN.  This method would work even if you open your Bible and plunk your finger down on a verse, but in order to receive the “whole counsel” of God, you should methodically work through all of Scripture, so you don’t just tend to the parts you like.  As you are reading through your Scripture, begin to underline or highlight verses that stick out, or really speak to you.  Use a Bible that you feel comfortable marking up and making notes in.  Don’t worry about summarizing anything at this point.  Just let your Spirit be open to God speaking to you through His Word.  When you are finished reading your section of Scripture, skim back over it, and note the sections that you’ve underlined.  What stands out to you the most?  Where do you feel God really opened your eyes today?  Whittle that down to a phrase or a verse or two of Scripture.  Then in your Life Journal, write down today’s date, and then under that put an “S” and then write out the verse of Scripture, Then make a note of the Biblical Reference (Isaiah 44:1, for example).

2.“O” OBSERVATION.  Write down an “O” and then write things that you observed during your reading or study of today’s text.  This can be as extensive as you like.  You can write down what’s happening in the preceding and following chapters and verses (immediate context) of the section of Scripture you’re reading, or if you’d like to go deeper, you can lookup some historical information on the internet or in a Bible Dictionary.  If your Bible lists “cross-referenced” Bible verses, you might look those up and see what additional insights they provide and write that down. Whatever you observe that helps “set the stage” for today’s reading… write that down.  I find that this is the sort of thing that may be obvious to you while you are reading, but very often flees your memory when you look back at just a section or verse of Scripture out of its original context.  Record those observations for ‘safe keeping’ in the “O” section of your journal entry.

3.“A” APPLICATION.  Now write an “A” and then write how God is speaking to you personally through this verse.  What is He saying that you need to hear?  What is He saying that challenges you, or perhaps that comforts and encourages you?  This section in your journal, simply helps you apply the verses of Scripture to your life and your current situation. 

4.“P” PRAYER.  Finally, write down a “P” and the prayer(s) that emerge in your heart following your devotional time.  By this point in your time with God, it is likely that you will realize that you need to make a change, to be strengthened, or just to be comforted and given hope.  Talk to God in this section.  Tell Him what’s in your heart, and ask Him to give you what you need.  He longs to do this for you… He is waiting for you to come to Him.  This is the part of your journal where you don’t want to ‘hold back.’  You cannot hide anything from God.  By not coming to Him on your knees in your journal/prayer you are only short-changing yourself of God’s power to heal, strengthen, comfort or grow you.  Write it down.  Be “Real,” honest and sincere with God.

That’s it!  It’s a pretty easy thing to do, and the blessings are many.  In fact, the blessings can be compounded when you SHARE your devotional (SOAP) thoughts with someone else!  Try it the next time you get together in small groups, or with a new-believer you are mentoring, or at a meeting for church, or even with someone with whom you might differ theologically!  It is a great way to open the Scriptures and dig in.  This way, you are ready and ‘prepared,’ since God has already spoken to your heart on the topic.  You can even use it as a means for accountability.  The next time someone tells you that they wish they read the Bible more, you might suggest they try the S.O.A.P. method.  Then when you see them, ask them to share something with you from their journal.  If the pages are empty – then it’s clear that they haven’t yet begun to really work at studying God’s Word devotionally.

Oh, one more thing.  When you are working on your Life Journal, it’s good to have a blank notepad next to you. You can use that to write down any “busy thoughts” that come to your mind while you are reading and studying Scripture.  So many people struggle with this.  When we sit still to study the Bible, we can tend to have a flurry of thoughts flood our mind with what we have to do today or tomorrow.  If you think to yourself “I’ll remember it,” and you don’t write it down, what tends to happen is that your brain keeps dwelling on it, and it clouds your thinking and focusing on God and His Word.  It is far better to set your Bible down for a moment, make a note of what you have to do in your planner or notepad, and then move on with your devotion.  In fact, I’ve found that God uses my devotional time to bring me to some of my best thoughts and ideas.  It is a good feeling if you sense that God is leading you in your daily tasks.  It gives you a greater sense of purpose.  The main thing, though, is not to let these thoughts distract you from reading and praying through Scripture.

Why am I trying so hard to get you to try this devotional method?  Because it has been truly transformational for me!  It has changed the way I approach my devotional time.  By being a more active ‘participant’ in my time with God, I get so much more out of it. For years I tried sitting down and doing devotions with nothing but my Bible in hand.  But there’s something about bringing a pen and paper into the picture…  It means that I seriously expect God to say something to me, or show me something that day!  I pray that you will enjoy many such encounters with God using your Life Journal!

Studying the Bible with you,

Pastor Augie

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