Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sabbatical Diary: The First Week

I have a few goals for this sabbatical:
1. Visit churches with a reputation for reaching people, and see what I can learn from them.
2. Get a good start on writing a year-long devotional book.
3. Read some good books.
4. Spend a little extra time with my family.
5. Get a bit more sleep than usual.

So far, so good.  I've visited two churches so far (more on the second church in my next post).  I've done some reading, although I'm a little behind on that goal.  My family time has been great...even if a good portion of it was spent in the summer heat planting new landscaping (and naturally, chopping right through a sprinkler line.  Hello, Mr. Plumber).  And as for sleep, it has been quite nice.

The book I'm writing is tentatively titled Finding Jesus.  It's going to be a 365-day devotional look at the life of Jesus.  The goal is that Christians can use it in their daily devotionals or (even better) give it to a friend who doesn't know Christ.  This week, I managed to come up with Scripture texts and working titles for each of the 365 readings.  I also wrote an introduction and the first ten readings.  It was enough to show me this is going to take awhile; I certainly won't finish before my sabbatical is through.  But if I can get a good chunk written, I can finish (hopefully) later this year by writing a little every day.  I've pasted the intro below.  Let me know what you think.  

            Lieutenant Dan Taylor: “Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?” 
            Forrest Gump: “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for Him, sir.” 
            Why do I think you should read this book?  I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is different from other great men and women of history.  Studying the lives of figures like Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, or Mother Theresa can be inspiring.  But when people strive to know Jesus, it changes their lives for the better.  The very act of seeking Him improves the seeker; I can’t think of anyone else, alive or dead, like that.  If you are already a follower of Jesus, I hope this book can help you know Him more fully.  You’ve probably discovered this by now, but time spent with Jesus--even time reading familiar stories--is always time well spent.  But I am hoping this book will enable you to see aspects of His character you’ve never considered before.  If you so choose, this book can be read as a year-long daily devotional guide.  Within the twelve chapters are three hundred sixty-five readings, each containing a Scripture reference and a paragraph or two of commentary.  The readings are undated, so you can start any time of year.  As you read, pray for God to help you know Jesus better than you ever have before.  Keep a journal of any new insights you gain.  And consider passing the book along to a friend who needs to know Jesus, too…or even reading it along with them.
            I wrote this book with non-Christians in mind, as well.  In the movie Forrest Gump, Lieutenant Dan, having lost both legs in combat, has no use for a God who seems either unaware of his problems, or impotent to help.  He especially resents the pat answers and manipulative language of religion, with its promises that He can “walk with Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  (Of course, Lieutenant Dan later makes peace with God…and he does walk again.)  Perhaps you’ve experienced the same frustration with religion.  Maybe your experience with Christians can be summed up by words like “Hateful,” “Self-righteous,” “Overly political,” “Homophobic,” “Anti-Science.”  The goal of this book isn’t to make you any of those things.  In fact, if you get to know Jesus, you’ll find that He wasn’t any of those things, either (But the people who conspired to kill Him were).  Could it be that the impressions you have of Jesus are based on false assumptions?  Wouldn’t you like to know what He was really like?
            Or perhaps looking for Jesus has never really occurred to you.  You’re not particularly religious, and you can’t think of any good reason to change that.  Somehow this book has landed in your hands (Maybe one of your pushy religious friends gave it to you).  Do me a favor: Read the first chapter, and see why I believe Jesus is the most important and influential person in human history, whether you believe the Church’s claims about Him or not.  Then consider the fact that this man-- a man so influential history is literally divided into everything that happened before Him, and everything that has happened since--this man didn’t claim to know truth, He said He WAS Truth.  He didn’t come to teach us new facts about God; He said He WAS God.  Either this was the most successful con artist ever…or the key to life as we know it.  Shouldn’t you make an informed decision about such a person, just in case?  Wouldn’t that be the most responsible thing to do?    
            One thing to note: I believe we can’t truly know Jesus without studying the Bible; In other words, I assume that the Jesus of Scripture is the Jesus of history.  (I realize that’s a counter-cultural assertion, so if you’re wondering why I assume this, read Appendix: Why the Bible is the most reliable source of information about Jesus). There have been many books written about Jesus over the years, all claiming to reveal the “true” story.  But I believe the true story of Jesus was completed 2000 years ago.  My book is simply an effort to help guide you through that story.  Please don’t skip the Scriptures I reference; take time to read them carefully.  

            So come along on a journey with me.  No matter who you are, I pray you’ll find Him.  I’m confident you will.  After all, He said it Himself:  Everyone who seeks, finds(Matthew 7:8).

Here are the chapter titles:

1. Who was He?  His impact on the world.
2. The expectation of a Messiah
3. His birth and early life
4. Jesus the Teacher--His parables
5. Unimaginable power--His miracles
6. A new way of life--The Sermon on the Mount
7. Jesus and the people--His relationships
8. His enemies
9. His death
10. His resurrection
11. The promise of His return

12. Who do you say that I am?

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