Fireside 2.1 (https://fireside.fm) The BEMA Podcast Blog https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles Wed, 28 Sep 2022 18:00:00 -0700 The BEMA Podcast Blog en-us The Voice of the Shepherd https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-09-28-the-voice-of-the-shepherd Wed, 28 Sep 2022 18:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 3e57d572-b945-4dfe-a779-4b6eb66254ac A Story by Jamie Geyer from BEMA Israel 2022 Note: The following is written by Jamie Geyer, a trip participant on the BEMA Israel 2022 study tour. Part of my sabbatical is leading these trips, and I wanted her to share a bit about how these efforts affect others like her. Being healthy on sabbatical isn’t just an inward work; when done right, it also pours out into others.

I will always cherish my time in the desert following the shepherd. It reminded me of my own deserts in my life. Marty told us that we tend to be people of the eyes who get easily distracted or torn down by the world around us — but Jesus invites us to be people of the ears and to not take the world as we see it, but to quiet and still ourselves so we can hear the strong, gentle voice of our shepherd in the desert. We weren’t able to see a shepherd and their flock on the trip, but I took that image to heart. A shepherd doesn’t lead with force or yelling, but with his voice — his quiet, gentle, but strong voice. I hope we can become people of the ears like Marty encouraged us to be.

One of the spiritual disciplines I have found most helpful over the years is my weekly sabbath day. Even going into a stressful season of grad school, I’m committed to keeping that practice so I can quiet myself and be a person of the ears who knows and follows my shepherd’s voice.

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I’ve known Marty for a minute. I met him at Washington State University in 2010 when he was a campus minister with Impact (and a pastor at my local church). This was before BEMA became a podcast, back when it was just a class where a few students met every week to learn about the cultural and historical context of the Bible. Marty taught us that it was OK and even encouraged to ask tough questions and wrestle with the Text in community. My life was forever changed by that beautiful community — my BEMA family. They were there for me during the hardest moments of my life and I will be forever grateful for their friendship and support.

BEMA made Genesis 1 my favorite passage. Marty drilled the message: “The story is good! Trust the story!” He said, “Where do you start a book? At the beginning!” Marty always taught us to look for and love and support the alien, orphan, and widow. I love that message and am going into the field of art therapy to do just that.

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One of my favorite moments of the trip was at Susita (part of the Decapolis) where Marty taught us about the demoniac man who had struggled desperately for years, and how Jesus got out of the boat — against cultural customs — to reach just that one man. I relate a lot to the demoniac man and it was amazing to hear that Jesus got out of the boat, not for a perfect theologian or biblical scholar, but because the man was and is intrinsically loved by Jesus just for existing. The man had no theological training, and yet the simple act of telling his story changed the hearts of an entire city, and eventually the world. I often struggle to think I’m good or worthy enough to make big change. In fact, back in BEMA class days, I always thought BEMA wasn’t for me, but for the A+ Christians, and it took a while before I could see myself as having something worthwhile to bring to the table. Marty said, “Tell your story.” At the Decapolis, I cried because I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the people back at Washington State who got out of the boat for me. They were my En Gedi — my waterfall in the desert.

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Marty also talked about David and Goliath and how David had nothing to offer in terms of military advantage or brute strength, but he was brave enough to throw his small stones and God was able to use that courageous act to defeat Goliath. Marty said that even if we feel we have nothing to offer logically to a situation or problem, to throw our stones anyway. Even the smallest act of faith can be used by God immeasurably more than a perfectly polished and planned out theory that is never put into action. I sometimes struggle with wanting things to be perfect before I try them, and I do strive for excellence, but God invites us to remember that it’s Him who makes our actions excellent. Throw your metaphorical stone; take your shot and have faith that God will move as you do.

I'm so grateful for the amazing and dynamic community that was formed on this trip. One of the main pillars of BEMA is community, and on the last night Marty defined that as not just a bunch of people who agree with everything you say, but that real community is between people who may disagree on certain things, but agree that they want to love God and love others and become people of the Text. They can treat each other and their differences of opinion with kindness and empathy and curiosity, which is rare and refreshing in our world today. I saw real Kingdom community modeled on this trip. It impacted me immensely and I hope I can build that in my life back home. Life can sometimes be disheartening, but I’m so grateful to have met kind, caring, compassionate, genuine people. It really refreshed my faith in the global community.

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Another memorable lesson was that if you encounter thorns, then it means you’ve gone off the path. The question I’m still wrestling with is how to tell the difference between things being hard because you’ve gone off the path, and life just being hard even while faithfully walking the path. I pray for that discernment and hope that living in community can help me decipher that.

The lesson about the parable of the seeds, or the parable of the soils (as Marty calls it), was also very impactful. As a type 6, upon hearing the lesson I quickly identified the humbling truth that I tend to be the soil with the thorns where the worries of this world grow up and choke out any spiritual growth that I had eagerly taken in like a sponge. I often struggle getting distracted by the many worries of this world. I’m so tired of living my life paralyzed by fear. I pray God can help me become a person of the ears and not someone distracted by the weeds and thorns. God, help me have good soil and deep roots and trust and show that the story is good!

Marty talked about spiritual disciplines and how even 2-degree shifts can make a huge difference down the road, and I’ve been working on integrating those into my life. I’ve been saying the “Jesus Shema” that we prayed every morning and night on the trip, and someone suggested drawing could be a spiritual discipline — great news since I find so much life and reflection in that. I’m working on writing out and memorizing the Text because Marty sent us away with a fire to haggah (passionately devour like a lion devours his prey) the Text.

Marty called us to bring shalom to chaos. There are two kingdoms at work in the world — shalom and empire. God calls us to the kingdom of shalom to bring heaven crashing into earth. To be on the lookout and support the alien, orphan, and widow (the outcast, the marginalized, the “those people”), we must remember that God loves even the people we think are so far from Him. Trusting that the story is good and using your good eye to decide if we want to live in a worldview of scarcity or abundance. I tend to gravitate toward thinking I live in a world of scarcity after going through scarce times in my life. Even though God has blessed me and shown up a million times since then, and things are better, I still get frustrated with my tendency to slip back into a scarcity mindset. But I could bless the world a hundred times over if I used my good eye and saw the world as one of abundance rather than scarcity. Can I trust that God will provide, even when I cannot see the next step? I want to always be asking myself, “Who am I, and what am I doing here?” Is it loving God, loving others, or becoming a person of the Text?

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I desperately want to be shade in the desert. I want to be a rotem bush.

Marty showed us how to follow him and walk the path in the desert and reminded us to help the people behind us. I hope I can walk the path faithfully, and make it easier for the people coming after me.

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Looking for Margin https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-08-30-looking-for-margin Tue, 30 Aug 2022 02:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 5246a9a9-bded-4f28-a2f5-c37da23687ec Struggling to find margin in a Sabbatical. Alright, let’s talk about one of the things I’m struggling with in this sabbatical. This won’t have any poetic resolution or instructive conclusions. I’m not necessarily looking for feedback, although you’re welcome to send it. I would covet your prayers and I am looking to be honest with myself.

I’m struggling to find margin.

I know this seems like a space where 90% of us live. I’m frustrated because this is something I preach to others and those I mentor. I’m frustrated because I pride myself on being a person of discipline and a person who is able to make “the tough decisions” — and I feel like creating margin is usually just an issue of being unwilling to make tough decisions.

But I’ve been working on this for a couple years and I’m really, really struggling to find margin. One of my great prayer partners (Hi, Jim!) is always praying that I would find time to sit in Jesus’s lap and just spend time with Him. I love this prayer request. I yearn for it.

So why am I always running full blast, trying to accomplish my to-do list each week? How come I always crash into Sabbath completely wasted and exhausted?

It’s been years since I’ve seen this as some American, “hard work” virtue. I don’t think stumbling into Sabbath rest with nothing left is some equivalent to spiritually “leaving it all on the field.” Actually quite the opposite. If we leave it all on the spiritual field, I would assume we are more rested, because we literally left a bunch on the field — unaccomplished. We gave those things over to the Coach to do with as He pleases, and we’ve found a better relationship.

So here I am, the great teacher and podcaster, and I’m struggling to do the basic stuff. I’m not defeated. I just want to be honest. I wish I had more time to simply sit down for five minutes in my workday and pray over the next thing I’m going to do. To look out the window and smile and listen and hear the voice of the Shepherd. The fact that this isn’t true tells you I still need to be shaped and formed in this Sabbatical!

Before I’m done with this Sabbatical journey, let’s talk more about this and what we’ve learned, OK?

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New Ways to Pray for Me https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-08-15-new-ways-to-pray-for-me Mon, 15 Aug 2022 01:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 6adb1445-8f11-4b41-9100-9f018a8b3f11 Updated Prayer Requests It’s been awhile since I talked about how you can be praying during my sabbatical. Part of the goal of this blog was to share that, and you can see me mention it here. So let’s do that, shall we?

We’ll start with a foundation of praise:

  • Bless God that He continues to show up in so many different ways and in so many different people. God’s faithfulness is truly astounding and it fills me with gratitude.
  • Bless God that I’ve been able to make my trips to Israel and Turkey. A lot of things could have derailed these plans; I’m very thankful simply to have been able to execute these trips this year. I’ve met incredible people and my soul is filled with joy when I consider their stories.
  • Bless God for all the time our family has enjoyed with each other this summer. With me being gone so much to Israel and Turkey, this praise is a big one. It’s easy to feel like Dad is gone all summer, but we’ve had some great opportunities together and we’ve capitalized on them!

What’s on my heart right now?

  • Pray for an upcoming eye surgery. This surgery (corneal cross-linking) is not supposed to be a complicated or dangerous procedure at all, but any surgery (especially on something like my eyes!) is a anxiety inducing. Pray for a great surgery and a quick recovery.
  • Pray for an upcoming marriage retreat. Becky and I have been given the opportunity to participate in a marriage retreat for our sabbatical. Usually I’m speaking when we travel, but this time I simply get to participate and invest in us. We’re looking forward to this. Will you pray for our time together as a couple?
  • Pray for my leadership. We live in a world where it seems like we are surrounded by horrible stories of corrupt and abusive leaders in communities of faith. I want to be a leader and lead an organization that is marked by character, integrity, and humility. Pray that I would have wisdom to lead like Jesus.

What’s on my calendar?

  • Marriage Retreat in Destin, FL. Discussed above, we’ll be gone September 12–16. Pray for Becky’s parents as they watch the kids!
  • Recovering from surgery. Not much else on my calendar as I give my body space to heal!

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Trust the Story, Trust the Process https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-07-27-trust-the-story-trust-the-process Wed, 27 Jul 2022 02:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com c5158665-d7b0-4422-9aba-0e899a01d8ec The Process Can Work, Given Enough Time An entry about faithfulness.

This sabbatical journey has been a long one. We’re coming up on the end of the first year of a two-year experience. When I started down this road with my team, there were some immediate, surface-level experiences and takeaways. I started a Hebrew class and some counseling. I intentionally tried to look for opportunities to bless those in less fortunate situations. I stopped engaging in fundraising and trusted in God’s provisions.

I wrote some initial posts that were easy, fast, and “free” — quick observations while the experience was fresh. But still, there was a slow journey to trod in front of me. Some of the more meaningful objectives of my sabbatical were not — and are not — as easily seen and experienced. I have struggled to create margin or feel like I’m finding any semblance of a “sabbatical space.”

This has been disheartening at times. I’ve been learning some really meaningful and unintended lessons along the way (that you can read about in the last few posts), but the “system” wasn’t working like I wanted it to.

But I knew this would be a long process and I knew the infrastructure Impact Campus Ministries puts in place for sabbaticals works, so I trusted the process. We have our staff create a plan and have some things to shoot for. We design an accountability structure and establish intentional relationships to keep each of us on track. There was a period of time where I was tempted to panic — to scratch the whole thing and redesign it all in order to find the “sweet spot” I was missing.

But I decided to stay the course, because there was still time. That decision is looking to be one of the richest experiences, almost as if it is determined to help my sabbatical find the space that I sought to create.

We stayed curious and we asked questions. We stayed vulnerable and discussed the frustrations. My team has shown up and said “YES” or “NO” as needed. Together we’ve listened and responded. At times it seemed like we were off track and at times that track has brought us right where we want to be. They are helping me find the space I am looking for and helping me get there in healthier ways than I would have forced on my own.

One of the things I always talk about is trusting the story. It’s a concept rooted in Sabbath and an understanding that we have everything we need — that fear and insecurity cause us to do dumb and destructive things. This is part of what I’ve seen in trusting the process. When we know that the process is good, that it’s built on the right stuff and has the right people involved, we need to know this process will bear fruit if we walk it out in faithfulness.

So if you know you have a good process, but you’re wrestling with fear and insecurity, catch yourself before you make a mistake. Trust the process to do what it was built to do.

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Honoring the Miles https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-07-11-honoring-the-miles Mon, 11 Jul 2022 07:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 46730dca-d098-401a-a6e0-da70efa817c0 A Story by Justin Scott from BEMA Turkey 2022 Note: The following is written by Justin Scott, a middle school science teacher who joined me on the BEMA Turkey 2022 study tour. Part of my sabbatical is leading these trips, and I wanted him to share a bit about how these efforts affect others like him. Being healthy on sabbatical isn’t just an inward work; when done right, it also pours out into others.

As a teacher I have been taught that all learning is experiential. You must have a lived experience with information to really understand the specific concept. While my wife and I have listened to the entirety of The BEMA Podcast, we underestimated how much of the content we needed to experience to truly learn. Being on the trip to Turkey really drove home how similar my life is to the men and women who lived in places like Perga, Sardis, and Laodicea. Walking through the ancient streets, on almost-forgotten hills, and through well-preserved homes provided a connection to the Text I did not experience listening while driving to work. Learning the stories of Asclepius, Dionysus, and Athena helped to create a connection between my life and the lives of believers at that time.

For me to make these amazing connections, I had to get to the places where the connections existed. “Honoring the miles” wasn’t something I understood until we began running across ancient arenas, walking across ancient cities, and climbing actual mountains. It wasn’t easy, but it did help me to understand the daily experiences of the early believers. One of the two most impactful moments was when we studied the Olympics in Aphrodisias. I was reminded of the amazing people who are cheering for me and my race. This reminder helps me continue to understand the narrative of partnership with God and His love for me.

Leaving Turkey and the amazing connections created between fantastic people was difficult. It really helps you understand why the Essenes hung out together in the desert! Alas, as the song goes, “back to life, back to reality.” However, it hasn’t been back to the same old thing. I have felt it necessary to look for where God is working, to find the partnerships He has already formed to do the work of bringing the world back together. My eyes work differently now because they look for the good. My wife and I are looking for ways to shrewdly live our lives in a modern “Rome” and offer a message of Shalom rather than Empire. We are also looking for ways to partner with our home church to include more diverse voices to do the work of seeking out the mamzer, honoring people, providing space for the sacred, and partnering with God. There are so many things I learned — and so many new questions I am now asking — that my head and heart feels so full. Most of all, I learned that I should stay rooted to the Text and be a part of making it living and active in the world. For this, I am thankful for the opportunity to have gone to Turkey this year.

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Welcome Disorientation https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-06-27-welcome-disorientation Mon, 27 Jun 2022 11:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 9209b6b1-a261-4643-9a36-cb9f37f2efbc Finding a New Perspective I’ve just returned from Turkey and my thoughts are in a bit of a jet-lagged haze. It may be a horrible time to process thoughts in a journal entry, but it also might be the best!

Similar to when I spoke of these study tours giving me an opportunity to reset my mental computer, I find the two-and-a-half weeks of disconnection creates just enough disorientation to see things with a fresh set of eyes. There’s something that happens when we approach life from the same center of gravity over and over again, day after day, week after week. We begin to see things in the exact same light. We notice the same things and make the same observations. It’s almost as though we are training ourselves what to see and perceive.

In some respects, I enjoy the focus this centeredness can bring. I can catch a rhythm and process my progress effectively. I can work on my own development as I sharpen my skills and efforts.

But this also creates a world where I don’t see anything new. And that’s a bad thing.

This is one of those push-and-pull, in-and-out rhythms. Which one of these postures is the right one? Do you want to see things with fresh eyes, or do you want to find a centered place to work from? Obviously the answer is both of them. You don’t pick between the two. But if you’re like me, you certainly gravitate toward one of them over the other. Shaking things up is not a part of my natural tendencies.

This is one of the things we love about personal retreat days (PRD) at Impact Campus Ministries. One of our organizational non-negotiables is a monthly paid workday where we have to step out of our normal routine and put ourselves in a space to listen and watch for something we aren’t seeing when we’re caught up in “normal.” My PRD happened to be on Friday, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I got to step aside and process the things I was experiencing after stepping aside and leading a bunch of students through Turkey.

What is at the forefront of my mind?

What are my greatest concerns?

Rather than trying to get back to where I was three weeks ago, where does God have me right now — and how do I steward that well?

History only moves in one direction: forward. And these moments provide me with an opportunity to stay caught up with what is going on around me. If you have the opportunity this summer, seize the moment provided by a vacation or the changing of seasons to create a jolt in your perspective. Listen to what it is that God could be telling you in those moments with a unique perspective that you don’t usually have.

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Responsibility to the List https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-06-09-responsibility-to-the-list Thu, 09 Jun 2022 02:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 2ec7df1b-2a20-412e-a212-674435ae5d93 Understanding Responsibilities, Learning Priorities NOTE: This jumbled mess of thoughts is likely more for my benefit of having to put them down and articulate them. I figured I would try to do that out loud in case they are helpful for anyone else.

One of the things going right in this sabbatical space is the direction I am headed when it comes to the relationship between my emotional health/awareness and my application of time management. Those things are undoubtedly more connected than they ought to be for so many of us.

I can remember the sense I had when I was preparing for my departure to Israel back in March. I was cramming work in order to get “ahead of the curve” — I would be gone for almost two and a half weeks. I had a list of things in my mind and on my heart in the form of projects I was burdened to make progress on every week. This is how I deal with the things I perceive as my responsibility: Make constant progress, even if only a little, to keep things moving forward. These items are tasks to be done and go on a mental whiteboard, like a shopping list in my brain.

I went on my trip and came back spiritually and emotionally energized. I had gotten a break from the routine and had tapped into one of those things that fills my cup. I knew when I had left for my trip, I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated — burdened by my mental to-do list. After a few days of being back in the office and feeling great, I knew something must be wrong and pulled out my literal journal to make some literal notes.

It was important to remember my list of responsibilities. There were many ways I could be letting people down.

So I did. I made the list. I think I remember most of the items on it. However, as I looked at the physical and literal list, now sitting on paper, I had no desire to pick those things up emotionally. The idea of doing so was so distasteful that I made a decision in the spirit of Sabbath Year.

I wasn’t going to pick that list back up.

There were a few things that stood out to me. One, since this list was now a physical reality in my journal, I knew I didn't have to keep “going through it” in my mind, taking up emotional head space. I could trust that, when I needed it, the list would be there. Eureka!

Second, I realized very few of these things had actual deadlines. Nobody had been harping on me to get these things done, except myself. If they are important to others, it stands to reason that I will hear about it from others. Until then, they can stay on the list.

Also building off of that idea, I realized that if they were important to others, I would also be able to get help from others to do these things. If others can’t help or don’t want to help, they simply aren’t as important as I might think they are.

And frankly, I simply didn’t want to go back to where I was three weeks prior. I was free (emotionally speaking). I was a healthier husband, father, and colleague. I’m sure that even God thought I was more pleasant to be around. I basically heard Him saying so. So why would I go back? I didn’t.

So far, nobody has emailed me to let me know that I’m letting them down. Nobody has wondered what I’m doing with my life or how I could be so irresponsible. My work week is full. I’m engaging the things that need to be done. If anything, my co-workers are enjoying the fact that I’m not nearly as cranky, complaining about everything.

As I write, I leave for Turkey in a couple of weeks. Right now, I’m not sweating the curve. I’ll be ready. And my list will be there when I get back.

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Stopping, Ceasing, Letting Things Be https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-05-23-stopping-ceasing-letting-things-be Mon, 23 May 2022 14:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com ab8cb66c-2152-443d-b808-648500ac4b16 Sabbatical Discoveries In my last entry I closed with a statement about the work of Sabbath: the idea of “stopping and ceasing and letting things be.” I wanted to circle back and reflect on what some of that has looked like for me on a practical level.

STOPPING

I don’t have a personality that likes to stop. I like to go and push and bring things to completion. This does not serve me well when my list of assignments is growing and overwhelming. In this season, when I sense that feeling of being overwhelmed and like I’m driving toward the cliff of [bad] reactions, I am using it as an opportunity to simply say, “No. I’m stopping the car and turning off the ignition.” I think the idea of Sabbath Year is giving me the excuse I need to make these decisions. Usually, my sense of responsibility drives me to overproduce and keep driving. But in this time of shmitah, I am letting the words “no” and “enough” show up more in my vocabulary.

This has also shown up in a renewed commitment to vacation. My team has been very helpful in this, holding me accountable. I’ve always used my vacation in big chunks, traveling with the family and taking “seasons” of vacation. However, when my work was so busy, what this meant was that I wasn’t taking most of my vacation. I have used this undesirable situation to say “no” to work and “yes” to stopping and vacation. This has been refreshing and forming for me — showing me that I can say no and that it isn’t a total disaster.

CEASING

When I left for Israel a few weeks ago, I had a journal full of ongoing projects that were very much consuming my vocational headspace. I worked hard to get things to an acceptable place so I could step away for a few weeks in confidence. I went to Israel and had an unbelievably refreshing time. I came back to my office and was invigorated and happy. I had this vague sense that I was supposed to be getting back to some “list” of things that I left behind me. Eventually, I even remembered this list and wrote down a summary — a state of the job at hand, if you will — in my journal. But I simply didn’t want to go back to that same anxious headspace again.

So I didn’t. I knew the list was written down and catalogued in my journal, but rather than letting my mind adopt all of that anxiety again, I simply decided to pick up those items as they are needed and I am compelled to do so (whether by urgency of circumstances, or desire). It’s been over a month now and I have not been haunted by those things in the same way.

LETTING THINGS BE

This has been the area where I feel the most dynamic growth and it’s likely fed by the two realities I talk about above. It seems I have been overtaken by a mantra of “let it be” or “it’s okay, be okay.” I am sensing this with the tasks at hand, but also with the feelings and expectations of others. I am letting people think things and feel things and express things without feeling responsible to address every little thing about it or making it my responsibility to help them. What I am routinely surprised to learn is that others are not offended by this. They weren’t actually sharing all of those things because they wanted me to respond. They were sharing those things because they wanted to be heard, or they just wanted me to know.

And that is enough. Sometimes, they decide to get more involved in their own solutions. They appear to be more fulfilled by this and the growth is more substantial. I am learning that I have actually gotten in the way of so many things because I felt every observation demanded a reaction or response from me. What I have discovered is that by being present and acknowledging those things (and those people), but also simultaneously letting those things be in relationship to everything else, the larger whole is healthier as it responds to its own situation. Who knew?! What a fabulous sabbatical discovery.

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Reflecting on the Essence https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-05-09-reflecting-on-the-essence Mon, 09 May 2022 02:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 04260211-851d-4a5c-82c3-ff3ba7f4e2b3 Examples of Changes and Growth One of the things I’m enjoying about this sabbatical journal is the consistent invitation to reflect on the essence of the Sabbath Year and my objectives for this time. I certainly haven’t seen the success I know I was imagining for some of these items months ago. The time to go back and reconsider is also an opportunity to recalibrate and make adjustments. It provides me with the opportunity to do this without judgment or self-condemnation. I can accept things as they are, be honest, and make the adjustments.

It has also provided a time to pause and realize there are things that are constantly going on under the surface. The stuff that isn’t “on paper” or screaming at you from the circumstances, because those are easy to see. Many of these things are hard to categorize and talk about because they aren’t really “this” or “that,” but I’m not sure I would have paid any attention to them without the intentionality of my sabbatical.

One example of this is the commitment to first fruits. While there is nothing unique to the Sabbath Year when it comes to first fruits, the principles of recognizing God’s provision and trusting him with those first portions is even more poignant during times like this. The practice of tithing or first fruits seems to be humming with what I might call the “spirit of sabbatical practice.” Our church was recently doing construction on their website and the online giving platform was down for a season. The commitment to make sure we got our tithe in was unique to this time we are in. I recently got paid one of the advance installments for my upcoming book, and it was a joy to make sure the first payment was immediately made to charity and helping others.

I’m not sure any of it truly fits in the category of provision to the poor, which is outlined in Torah’s principles surrounding shmitah, but it all seems to be interconnected — and I’m enjoying what it does to me and my family.

Another example of this is a thought that seems to be connected to canceling debts and forgiving others. I am having spaces and opportunities to hear from other perspectives and viewpoints that I have typically been quick to judge and reject. I am becoming more curious and empathetic. I am seeing this season as an opportunity to be more open-minded, not just open-handed. This gives me a more generous personality and I see this as being more Christ-like. I am seeing more patience, more invitation, and more inclusivity. I’m holding my judgments with more generosity and forgiveness and trying to have less of a “record of wrongs” about how certain ideas or perspectives have been wrong or destructive. That’s not to say I have left all critical thinking behind, but simply that I am letting a spirit of forgiveness temper the speed with which I jump to conclusions.

It’s the work of Sabbath — of stopping and ceasing and letting things be.

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Finding the Right Amount of Chutzpah https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-04-25-finding-the-right-amount-of-chutzpah Mon, 25 Apr 2022 01:15:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 2f0e0e81-830a-4733-b67a-ce89360cef94 A Story by Dawn Nichols from BEMA Israel 2022 (Low Contact) Note: The following is written by Dawn Nichols, Associate Campus Minister with Impact Campus Ministries, about her recent experience with me in Israel for BEMA Israel 2022 (low contact). Part of my sabbatical is leading these trips, and Dawn herself took this trip as part of her own sabbatical. Her alternative perspective should be a valuable look into the process.

Midwestern Guilt is the self-conscious feeling of guilt that comes by inconveniencing anyone for anything. At least that’s my definition of it.

Every two years since 2014, I have heard what an amazing experience the BEMA Israel/Turkey trip has been. In my nine years of working with Impact Campus Ministries, I have met and worked with many people who had the opportunity to go. As a person with a physical disability and limited mobility, it didn’t seem likely I would be able to have this experience. As a joke, starting around 2018, I would ask Marty, “When are you going to create a handicap version of the trip?” But my Midwestern Guilt didn’t allow me to push him into creating something that would only be suitable for me. After continuing to have the desire to go, I worked up the courage/chutzpah to ask him for his consent to “keep pestering him” for an accessible trip.

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My expectations of the trip and why I wanted to go had been building for years, and when it was postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, it seemed like it was never going to happen. I imagine I am like most people before a big trip or event—anxiety and nerves get the better of me. I was anxious that my body wouldn’t hold up. I was nervous because I knew only two people out of 56. But mostly I was worried that my heart and mind wasn’t ready for such an immersive experience.

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On the first day of our trip, though, all doubts and hesitations I had about my physical capability were put at ease. Not because the trip wasn’t physically difficult—I broke a pair of boots—but because of the amazing community our group formed so effortlessly. There were others in the group who needed a little extra time, there was a lot of hand holding to steady our steps, and people literally carried our weight when we grew tired. By having people help guide me through rough, uneven “quarter-mile” hikes, I was able to connect and make friends incredibly quickly. A major blessing for me was that I was never left wondering, “Who is going to help me climb this giant hill, or how will I cross this stream?” Even before I would hold out my hand, someone was there EVERY SINGLE TIME! There was an overwhelming sense of freedom that allowed me not to worry about my physical well-being, and so I was able to be mentally present when Marty spoke.

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There are so many memories that will flood my heart when I think back on this trip: Climbing giant hills that reward you with breathtaking views, standing in the Jordan River alongside an amazing group of women, and seeing Marty's passion for the Text emanate through his entire being.

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What I have gained through this experience is an appreciation for the richness in the Text. I see it when I read past the name of a city in the Bible. I can now say, “I’ve been there.” There is a stronger desire to continue to wrestle and lean into the tension to better understand what God’s Word has to say for His people. There is a deeper appreciation of the opportunity for people from all over the country to come and share in this unique experience. But most importantly, I want to continue to have the chutzpah to love God’s people as well as I have been loved.

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Just Say No to Idols https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-04-11-just-say-no-to-idols Mon, 11 Apr 2022 14:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 6528ddd1-077f-482b-a2c8-f4e6f0878842 Permanence and Significance Note: BEMA Discipleship is listener-supported, typically through direct donations—but when you buy through links in this post, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

One of the other biblical principles that seems to rise to prominence in the year of shmitah (the Sabbath Year) is the prohibition against idolatry. In my original outline of this time, I proactively identified worry as one way I could practically fight the idolatrous urges on a daily basis. This wasn’t so much because “worry” would be the idol, but because those worries come from the same human insecurities that drove the literal idolatries of the past. They are the same idolatries that are present today.

One of the ancient gods of agricultural fertility (think daily provision, or the “god of paychecks”) was Baal. I know how easily my insecurity begins to rage when I think about my monthly budget and the possibility of losing my paycheck, then my healthcare and benefits, then my stuff, then my house, and then my family. Yes, I’m just like most of my American readers who have those same struggles. You can run a similar program for just about any of the ancient gods and find that those idolatrous narratives are alive and well in twenty-first century culture (here and abroad).

But the season of Lent has also provided a beautiful collision with my Sabbath Year reflections. While the season of Lent has always invited reflections on death — having its poignant opening on Ash Wednesday — a lot of variables synced up this year to have this stick out in a resounding way. I have been reflecting on The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann; he talks at great length about how our imperial narratives try to numb us to the side of death. He says that part of the job of the prophetic voice is to bring us to actively grapple with these realities.

It struck me how much I am deceived by the idea of permanence and how I have fashioned a shiny idol in my pursuit of significance.

But the truth of the matter is that I will die. Podcasts will fizzle out and nobody will care. The organization I work so hard to build will one day cease to exist.

I’m simply not that big of a deal. And this Lenten season I have had all sorts of emotional reactions to this reflection. One of the first was panic and denial. I didn’t want these things to be true. The initial pull toward my idolatry was evident. “The things I do matter a lot! They have eternal significance!” I shouted into the contemplative void, but the words echoed off of the back of eternity and returned to me. No. God has eternal significance. What God chooses to do with anything is what bears eternal fruit. And only when my work serves to connect people to the only thing that does last forever — only then do any of my actions have any value or worth.

I also experienced a sense of liberation in my smallness. That was not my fist reaction, but it did come to me. I take myself too seriously. I think that what I do is more important than it is, but I also think that my mistakes and failures are bigger than they are, too. The fact of the matter is that my smallness is something that sets me free to pursue the good. I felt a lot of other things as well, but the one thing I am thinking about the most right now is the clarity that comes from recognizing my expendability. If my significance is not the ultimate goal, so many of the things I strive for are simply not necessary. This renewed clarity allows me to focus on making good decisions about what is right, rather than decisions that serve my temporary agenda.

I am not done reflecting on this; I am only beginning and I’m listening. So I look forward to sharing more at a later date.

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Letting Things Be https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-03-15-letting-things-be Tue, 15 Mar 2022 02:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 9b31508a-e9ef-4452-8be2-42401b5d31a0 Connection with the Land One of the biblical principles of shmitah is the idea of letting the land lie fallow. Like I mentioned before, there are a few different elements of this principle that I’m trying to let inform and instruct me this year.

One of those is the idea that I wanted to be more cognizant of my connection with the land. For those who lived in the land of Israel, especially the historical culture that was more agriculturally centered, the disconnection from regular agricultural engagement would have been startling. I want to try and notice this as much as possible this year, and I’m still not sure how and where it will show up. So far, I haven’t had many reflections this year because of the winter seasons and the fact that I haven’t been out in the dirt very much yet. But spring is almost upon us!

Another aspect that would have been even more glaring was the trust involved in not planting or harvesting for the year. One of the ways I pursue this trust is to release the work of fundraising for the year. The closest thing I have to a harvest is “harvesting” support for our ministry. I find some sense of security in the work I know I put in, and the results I entrust to God. But to release that work and trust in spite of it is always a challenge.

This year, the challenge is not as great as the last time shmitah rolled around. Seven years ago, I was sweating bullets, worried that the money would stop coming in to support the work we do. It turns out that the year in question back then was the strongest financial year to date; this probably should not have surprised me that God provided just as He promised He would in Torah. I suppose this year has been tempered with that experience and maturity, which might lead to a future post about obedience and maturity and how faithfulness bears its own fruit.

I do have to say that another part of me feels like it’s cheating, because the team around me has grown and I know they are doing their parts to help out. I’m trying to exchange that feeling for a sense of gratitude and recognition for team.

Finally, I have also exchanged my regular rhythm of newsletters (a form of “field cultivation,” perhaps) for this written space of reflection. It continues to bless me, forcing me to reflect on my journey and experience, as well as some of the things I’m hearing as I listen.

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It’s Me https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-03-02-its-me Wed, 02 Mar 2022 18:00:00 -0800 bemacohost@gmail.com 1e638a9e-d4e2-4334-8aad-ae3e62ee321e Taking Responsibility In the last sabbatical post, I listed the following as a prayer request:

  • Pray that I would find good personal space. I have recently been struggling to find time to myself. Lots of company, lots of family tasks, lots of meetings and work and ministry. I need to find my own downtime right now. (Seems like a contradiction to the above, I know!)

This struggle has been so, so frustrating in the midst of sabbatical efforts. It’s so antithetical to what a sabbatical should be and to what I stated I was going to be about. One of the tendencies I have as a leader (and a parent and a husband) is to initially blame everything and everybody around me. While I may not give voice to these thoughts, my initial response is that everybody else is contributing to my negative experience.

One of the things I’ve mentioned before is the word for my first year of sabbatical — listening. This shows up in the part of my sabbatical plan that talks about the ICM requirement to pursue professional development during this time.

Another reason this experience has been so frustrating is that much work has been done to lighten my workload. I have a personal assistant who has taken over many of the menial tasks. ICM hired an additional executive last year so that our “project energy” could be shared among a team that would function with more fluidity (shout-out to Sarah Johnson, our Director of Staff Development, who makes my professional life so much better and helps Impact keep moving). We just added a Strategy Coordinator to the team to help me stay on top of all the details that have a tendency to drown me.

And so tell me, with all that help, why I am still suffocating in work?

And before I say what I’m about to say, I want to acknowledge that this whole thing is complex and nuanced. There are so many moving pieces and shared responsibilities. There are further changes that can be made to help out even more.

But there is one glaringly obvious fact that I simply wasn’t willing to acknowledge personally. Part of my problem is that I don’t know how to take responsibility for my own work, my own schedule, and my own commitments. Obviously, if we’ve changed all the other variables and I still find a way to dysfunctionally fill up all the new space, then apparently it’s not everyone else.

It’s me.

So I need to become more and more curious. As Brené Brown said in Rising Strong, I need to reckon, rumble, and find the revolution that helps me grow as an individual and a professional. What is it that keeps getting me backed into these corners? What is this horribly dysfunctional relationship I have with the word “responsibility” and what is the fruit of that? I don’t have answers yet, but I look forward to the idea of listening and learning more.

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How to Pray for Me (Again) https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-02-17-how-to-pray-for-me-again Thu, 17 Feb 2022 13:00:00 -0800 bemacohost@gmail.com a2a8bf7f-c1a6-4840-9bb9-0f9e0ad83386 Praise, Things on My Heart, and Things on My Calendar As mentioned before, this blog is designed in part to keep you apprised of the ways you can pray for me and lift up my time in sabbatical. I am very grateful for those of you who stay so committed to this discipline on behalf of our ministry and my family.

As before, we’ll start with a foundation of praise:

  • Bless God that he continues to teach me new things and grow me during this sabbatical season. I’m especially thankful for all those relationships I have every day that bring out the best in me and hold me accountable when I would not on my own.

  • Bless God that my bout with Covid was short-lived and a minimal struggle. I know this is not the case for so many and I’m remembering that my inconvenience pales in comparison to those who have serious concerns.

  • Bless God that we’ve been brought through the last busy season and now find ourselves in the middle of a consistent time of being home. It’s been a long, long time (pandemic lockdown excluded) since I’ve been home for this kind of extended period of time. I am excited and grateful!

What’s on my heart right now?

  • Pray that I would steward this time at home well. I say this thinking about my sabbatical and my theme of “listening.” I say this in terms of my ministry and needing to get some things done that I have been putting off for some time. I say this knowing that being home is not the same as being present, especially for my family.

  • Pray that I would find good personal space. I have recently been struggling to find time to myself. Lots of company, lots of family tasks, lots of meetings and work and ministry. I need to find my own downtime right now. (Seems like a contradiction to the above, I know!)

  • Pray that I would be listening as a leader. I think our organization is really leaning in and growing in our ability to build better culture and become a high-quality organization. I want this to continue and bear fruit — so we need to stay connected to the Vine. Apart from him, we can do nothing!

What’s on my calendar?

  • BEMA Israel (Low Contact). Pray for our trip! It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to lead a group to Israel. Our next trip leaves in late March.

  • Michigan Christian Convention. I will be one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Michigan Christian Convention. Pray for my preparation!

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A Word about Counseling https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-02-03-a-word-about-counseling Thu, 03 Feb 2022 14:00:00 -0800 bemacohost@gmail.com 989a8b71-922a-4b7f-b90e-bae4c0cfab50 The Value of Counseling I wanted to share a quick word about counseling. Directly said, my time in counseling and/or therapy has been life saving. I’ve mentioned many times the things I’m learning and talking about in counseling. While diving into the specifics would be inappropriate, I do want to talk about the importance of this discipline in my life.

I first started attending counseling in 2009 and the experience was incredible. I learned things about myself that I simply would never have learned anywhere else. I learned this because the professional sitting on the other side of the desk was trained in how the mind and emotions work. They saw things and were trained to interact with ideas that I was never trained to touch in theological schooling. All of this makes sense. I know a doctor is trained in certain fields of medicine and treatment. I know a pastor is trained in spiritual leadership. I know a tax accountant understands more about tax law than I ever will. We know how grateful we are for those experts and how they share their training with the rest of us. We gladly pay for their services and expertise.

And yet, there seems to be such a stigma surrounding the field of counseling and therapy. You go to those professionals when you have "serious problems,” right?

I’m not aware of any other place in my life where I can go and talk about emotions with this kind of intention and have somebody who understands — on a clinical level – how those emotions interact with my psychology and where they come from and what they do to my ability to relate to other people. Starting my journey in counseling over a decade ago was like opening the door to a room in myself that I didn’t even know existed, but all kinds of things I needed were locked inside.

So I made it a regular practice of mine, about every two years, to spend the next six months in counseling. It’s just a checkup. I don’t need a crisis to “prompt” it, although I’ve yet to enter a session without having plenty to talk about and reflect on. All of these things also give me plenty to work on as a person, a husband, a dad, and a professional.

I simply cannot even imagine how destructive of a person I would be without this discipline in my life. That destruction would be internal and external, self-inflicted and projected onto others. I mean, just think about this: Can you imagine a pastor, a leader, a CEO, an influencer (or anyone!) who doesn’t regularly deal with their emotional health? What kind of stuff builds up in them? What kind of internal narratives shape their character? How does that get translated into the meetings they lead, the decisions they make, the content they create, the sermons they preach?

If we’re married or parents, what do these same variables do to those relationships? How powerful are fear, jealousy, and insecurity? Even in the positive moments and opportunities, how do we process success or power (in all of its many forms)?

Just considering those things makes me shudder. I need an expert! I need a tour guide.

And I’ve had many. My first counselor was a Ph.D. from Harvard and he blew my mind. What a wild ride of self-discovery. I had a therapist who was certified in therapeutic hypnotism. I’ve experienced EMDR therapy. I’ve had counselors who were better fits than others. But each one has been such a blessing for that season of my life. And all of them have helped me talk about, think about, and reflect upon what takes place inside of me in helpful and healthy ways. And those around me have reaped the benefits. Thank you to all of you who give your lives to this work.

And I share all of this simply to speak a word and be open about my experience in counseling. I get frustrated by the stigma and resistance to this thing that has been so beautiful in my life. Even church cultures and leaders have discouraged people from engaging in this work. Without a doubt, good theology is important. Spiritual formation is critical. But emotional health is also foundational. May God help us to become healthier people.

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Better Together https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-01-20-better-together Thu, 20 Jan 2022 12:00:00 -0800 bemacohost@gmail.com 3158d23e-b87f-49ba-932d-6669914cf01f Better Together through Accountability Structures It’s one of those cliches you actually believe in.

We say it in lots of different contexts, often when talking about the beauty of partnerships and teamwork. We speak to the fact that we are “better together.” And like I said, it’s a cliche you actually believe in. When I hear it, I don’t roll my eyes or suffer a gag reflex. I really do believe in the logic of the statement that we are better when we are teamed with others than when we are by ourselves as individuals.

I believe it is true logically, but if you were to watch my life and my actions, it would often betray me with the truth: I would rather work by myself. And don’t get me wrong, there are many, many ways in which I function better on my own and thrive with autonomy. There are healthy expressions of this in my life and having others help me discover this and see the benefits — as well as the dangers — has been very liberating. But this desire for autonomy does not always serve me well, and I have discovered and learned the level of intention I have to live with in order to lean into partnership with other people.

And they have made me better, almost without exception. Those relationships are a gift. We are truly better together.

I often don’t go looking for this enough. My natural state is one where I feel just fine on my own. I know others are the opposite and they are drawn to relationships and affirmation — they need the feedback and the interaction to have a reference point. But that’s not my style. Much of my time in counseling during this sabbatical has focused on my relationships with others and how I relate to them and what they bring to my life. How do I evaluate their contribution? How do I learn to listen?

This truth is one of the most consistent “interruptions” in my sabbatical experience. In my opening entry, I talked about ICM’s sabbatical policies and one of the requirements being an accountability structure. This isn’t an oppressive or crushing presence in the sabbatical. It’s simply designed to make sure you are talking to others about your experience so you don’t miss opportunities. You want to get all the potential good out of your time. It’s a statement that comes from the belief that we are better together.

But I don’t naturally gravitate to this relationship. I have the planned calls (structure? plans? I like structure!) I make every other week or so to discuss my experience, but I assume this is the accountability structure at work. And it is.

But there is also so much more. And I’m thankful for other people in my life who tend to see this reality so much more than I do.

Because I was recently asked — again — by my team about my sabbatical experience when we were all together. And I — again — was initially frustrated by the question. I had already processed the current season and had answered the same question a few weeks earlier. I had shown up for my phone calls and I had written about it here on the blog. What more was there to do? Did I really have to answer this question again?

But I did, and it was uncomfortable, because I couldn’t simply repeat my answers from three weeks ago. That would’ve been awkward. So I had to pause, and reflect, and consider where I had been in the last three weeks. I had to think about some of the other things I had talked about and consider new things. I had to do the work of reflection, yet again, because they had asked.

And it probably won’t shock you to know I saw some new things during that conversation. It probably shouldn’t have surprised me, either, but it did. All of these things I wouldn’t have without those teammates asking me questions and asking me to keep doing good internal work. So I find myself writing about a part of our policy that I never thought would inspire much writing, but here we are — better together.

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The Development of Me https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2022-01-05-the-development-of-me Wed, 05 Jan 2022 03:00:00 -0800 bemacohost@gmail.com c49c3a1e-f27f-4e73-a6a7-b00a96a4c939 Seeing Change in Myself One of the things I’m doing for sabbatical is (finally) taking time for two years of more formal training in biblical Hebrew. It’s been on my to-do list for years and I simply haven’t had an excuse to make it happen. This sabbatical gave me that excuse. With all the travel I do to Israel, I’ve also wanted to get a better handle on modern Hebrew, so my teacher is helping me with that, as well.

On the surface, this is about me continuing my education, continuing my personal development, and growing as a healthy human being and professional. It’s good to learn and it’s good to push myself in areas relevant to who I am and what I do every day. Simple enough.

However, what strikes me frequently in this experience is how I have already changed. I am simply a wildly different person today than I was twenty years ago. I haven’t taken a college class with homework since 2005, and I was a different person back then. I found all my identity and my worth in my academic performance. I hadn’t yet learned about my compulsive obsession with planning and control. I was the student who got the syllabus on orientation week and did every assignment I could in the first two weeks — read every text, wrote every paper, prepared whatever projects I could. I had all my homework done days and weeks before it was due. It was about short bursts of work so the anxiety was lower through the rest of the year.

And performance… let me tell you. Perfect scores were my goal. High A’s were acceptable, low A’s were a disappointment (to myself), and anything less than that was unacceptable. I was a weirdly driven and perfectionistic student.

Well, since then, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Therapy has taught me a lot over the last decade about my anxiety and how I’ve managed it in the past and the impact it’s had on others around me. I have a different emotional relationship with myself and how I do life every day.

My homework today? Well, I don’t always have it done on time; most of it is done and done well, but it’s certainly not the same “energy” I had years ago. In my class this last week, my teacher gave me two B’s on my homework and I didn’t even cringe; I kind of nodded and shrugged. Yup.

Now, I know this sounds ridiculous to many of you. I can hear you chuckling at me and wondering if I’m kidding. I’m not. Marty Solomon in 2003 would never have imagined a world where I was behind on my homework and content with a B grade on an assignment in biblical Hebrew. The old version of myself would have told you that I had given up on life. I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s who I was.

But it’s not who I am anymore.

As I spend time listening during my sabbatical, I also find this more encouraging than I would expect. I am changing. I have changed a lot more than I was realizing in the passing moments and years. I think we all do. Maybe more or less depending on our intention and discipline to certain things, but we are dynamic creatures and we are transformed for better or for worse. I think I’m learning to celebrate the transforming work God has done in me.

I would tell my old self that, in fact, I haven’t given up on life. I’ve found so much more life than the old me could have ever imagined. I’m healthier today and my relationships are something God is using in positive ways — ways I simply wasn’t letting Him work in back then. I’ve made some choices about what’s important and what I’m building with my life. Some things are gold, silver, and precious stones; other things are wood and straw (check out 1 Corinthians 3 for more on this). And I like it.

And I have every reason to believe that this process continues. Twenty-one years from now, I’ll be thinking back to my 2022 self and thinking of how much more life I’ve continued to find. May it be so.

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Listening to Learn https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2021-12-22-listening-to-learn Wed, 22 Dec 2021 13:00:00 -0800 bemacohost@gmail.com a18c0f57-13e6-4d9c-ae37-427a022606e0 Making Time to Hear God I don’t really have intentions of writing more about failure, but I like to write about things honestly. The most recent item I felt I was learning from was the area of professional development that I wrote about in the second entry of this journey.

I mentioned the need to recenter myself around some of the core values of our organization. One of those value is the idea of Passion for God (I wrote about it here). Part of this is seen in our willingness and commitment to make sure we are LISTENING — listening to what God is trying to show us.

Now, this shows up as relevant here in two ways. One of them is that we would live and work in a way that has space to hear God’s voice. In this, I utterly failed in my first semester of sabbatical. In what I believe was an attempt to make up for lost “COVID time,” I scheduled all sorts of trips that had been on my to-do list for a couple years. This meant that I was on the road way more than I wanted to be. It’s pretty hard to have a posture of listening when you are constantly on the go.

The second way this shows up is to make sure we are spiritually alert and fully present in the situations we find ourselves in, despite the circumstances. In this, I have found more success. I have encountered lots of conversations where people have been trying to tell me things I need to hear — about my leadership or our organization. I feel like God has helped me to be aware of these conversations and be able to quiet my mind and receive what was being said. Most of these conversations have not been easy. I have heard about how I have hurt others or failed some. This is a part of life, but hearing these stories with grace and a desire to get better is what this idea of listening is all about. For those brave folks who have been willing to talk to me, I am grateful, for God has spoken through them.

So what about the failure? Well, ultimately, that is an easy fix, as long as I can stay disciplined and committed to saying no to all the “extras” that come my way. At this point, I have seven and a half weeks in 2022 that are purely at home with no traveling scheduled. Let’s keep it that way, so I can do an ever better job at listening.

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Not Winning https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2021-12-06-not-winning Mon, 06 Dec 2021 12:00:00 -0800 bemacohost@gmail.com 5b9fea0b-fbf4-4ea5-8c7a-ebeaeafcc18e A Sabbatical Lesson in Failure We’ve been reflecting on a lot of the ways that things work during sabbatical and how God shows up. We’ve been celebrating the lessons we learn and the way sabbaticals work at ICM. However, I do not know of one single sabbatical where everything goes as planned and all the objectives are hit and everything is wonderful.

With every sabbatical I have ever seen, you have to be willing to make changes. And I feel like this is one of our better lessons by itself.

So let’s talk about one of the things I mentioned previously that has been a total failure. In that entry, I mentioned that I wanted to read Torah with my family every night. Well, this simply hasn’t fit in our weekly experience. While we could break our backs trying to smash it into our bedtime routine, the fact of the matter is that we simply don’t have the bandwidth.

And we work hard (and have for years) to make sure we have time in the Bible. We are currently preparing for my daughter’s bat mitzvah. She is preparing her reading and her derashah. She’s working on her project to share and we are very intentionally involved in family practices together. So this isn’t an issue of whether we have spiritual practice. It happens to be a realization that we are bordering on too much.

And so we took a chill pill and just backed off. We cut ourselves some slack and realized that if we weren’t careful, we would mess up the spirit and objective of sabbatical all together.

And this, quite frankly, is not our style. We make commitments and we stick with them. We finish what we start. And so this decision has been a practice in and of itself.

I know that for others, they go the opposite direction. They might feel like they need to be challenged and push themselves. Part of healthy spirituality is the idea of accurate self-awareness. Do you know who you are and what your tendencies are? Do you know what you need to look out for and be aware of?

Luckily, part of our structure is also that accountability structure I mentioned at the beginning of this series. I have teammates to check this stuff against, and they are checking in on me. They know me and my tendencies well and push me to let sabbatical do its work. So, sometimes, we are able to learn from those things that never work out in the first place.

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Sabbatical Generosity Fund https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2021-11-22-sabbatical-generosity-fund Mon, 22 Nov 2021 14:00:00 -0800 bemacohost@gmail.com 87ac7e17-358e-4ec5-8fe6-d64591b4cdc4 Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes In the third entry of this sabbatical journey, I talked about some of the biblical principles that are shaping my time during sabbatical. One of those biblical principles is the idea of giving freely to those who struggle in poverty. I wrote the following:

Provision for the poor. This is a year of being generous and sharing of what we have for those who have less among us. More than usual, I will say “yes” to those who ask; I will seek to give at each and every opportunity. I have started carrying a “Sabbath Year portion” of cash to give away in these opportunities. I am excited to share some of those stories. Simply put, we’re trying to say yes, rather than overthinking it this year. We are trying to walk toward those in need when we see it, rather than avoid.

It’s one of the areas where I have some stories and reflections to share. Not only was it a biblical principle identified in my study of the Sabbath Year, but we also have other staff at Impact Campus Ministries who practice this. I remember hearing stories from Zack Dean and Jeff Vander Laan about what they learned during their sabbaticals. I am thankful for how they pioneered the way in this.

It’s been a while since my last entry because I have been on the road. I think it was a couple trips ago and I was driving to my hotel late at night. I was reflecting on my sabbatical and the things I was hoping to experience. I was thinking about the “sabbatical generosity fund” I am carrying around and how I hadn’t engaged the practice yet. Was I too insulated now in my career that I wasn’t rubbing shoulders with those less fortunate than me? Had I subconsciously designed my life to no longer be exposed to this pain? Years ago, I ran a ministry outreach that worked with our local community and those who struggled with homelessness. Was this no longer true about me? I was frustrated and insecure and angrily praying with God.

As I approached the exit for my hotel, they were doing construction on the ramp and I had to keep driving to the next exit. It was late at night, sometime around 11 pm, and I was one of the only people on the highway. I caught the next exit and pulled up to the light. There was no traffic. One of those struggling folks holding a cardboard sign sitting on the curb right out my driver’s side window, head hanging between his knees, was likely asleep at this hour.

I know this sounds ridiculous, and I feel like a fool writing it, but I didn’t make the connection between my prayers and this opportunity to incarnate that wrestling match.

Late at night. No traffic.

And the light was still red.

It was almost a “sun standing still” moment from the book of Joshua. I’m not claiming a miracle by any means, but I do feel like God may have been saying, “Are you seriously not getting this?”

Light was still red.

I was glad that my rental car had one of those automatic “shut-offs” so I wasn’t disturbing the sleeping man to my left.

And then it dawned on me.

I rolled down the window. “Hey man, you looking for some help?” His sleepy head shot up. “Oh! Hey! Yeah, wow, thanks for saying something.” I handed him some cash and told him I hoped he’d get to enjoy some breakfast. We chatted about how long he had been in the area and we exchanged some names and pleasantries. He thanked me again and I felt like the interaction was exactly what God had for both of us. I was glad that our paths intersected that night on the detour from my exit.

As I rolled up my window, almost as if on cue, the light turned green. No other cars had passed any direction. I returned to the highway and started making my way back to the exit I needed. I reflected on the verse from Hebrews about entertaining angels, always wondering “how that works.” Beyond that, I wondered if part of the rhythm of sabbatical is teaching us to break out of our regular rhythms. I wondered how many people I don’t “see” because I have learned to just drive past or continue on with my day. As slow as I was on the uptake, I thanked God for the sabbatical opportunity to “wake up” and see things with a fresh take.

And maybe next time I won’t need a miraculously long red light to see what God might be inviting me to do.

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How to Pray for Me https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2021-10-24-how-to-pray-for-me Sun, 24 Oct 2021 23:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 0814e69d-5397-4edf-b75b-1ffd9bca2834 Blessings, Concerns, and Upcoming Plans Note: BEMA Discipleship is listener-supported, typically through direct donations—but when you buy through links in this post, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Part of the design of this blog is to keep people updated on how they can pray for me. If you’re the praying type (I hope that’s many, if not most, of us), here are some thoughts.

First, I love to start with praise. A posture of gratitude is the foundation to my perspective. (Thanks, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.)

  • BLESS GOD that He has seen fit to grow my ministry and provide for me in so many ways, including finances. Pray also that I might steward those gifts well; pray that I would lead with character and integrity in a way that honors the generosity of those who chose to give to God through my ministry.

  • BLESS GOD that He has shown up in unexpected ways to surprise me. I did my part to plan well and God has honored that by showing up in those spaces.

  • BLESS GOD for a book contract and a new adventure. Pray that God would use it as He sees fit; pray that I would write a good book, no matter how many copies it sells. Pray that it would be useful for all the right people who can really use it in their walks.

Second, here are the concerns on my heart right now:

  • Pray that I would stay vigilant to seize opportunities to rest. My fall schedule (through the turn of the year) got a little out of control and I might be in danger of feeling some burnout. Pray that God would provide just enough and I would be faithful enough to see it and take it when it comes.

  • Pray that I would continue to steward the leadership of Impact Campus Ministries well and not be distracted by the work God has entrusted to me.

  • Pray specifically for my team, the Executive Team at ICM. They are such an incredible group of leaders and friends. They have had some tough times with family (sickness, death, financial needs, and so on). My desire is that they would be at peace and fulfilled in the work they are called to do. Pray for the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

Finally, here are some things I have coming up:

  • I am currently traveling in California, making long overdue connections and introductions. Pray for fruitful conversations and divine appointments.

  • After that, I am home for a short week. Pray for good rest and family connections. Pray that I could see my wife and kids and spend meaningful time with them, not just “catch up on work.”

  • Then, I’m off to Missouri to speak at an art show, connect with supporters, and spend time at Truman State University. The ministry at Truman is very close to me and I consider the ministers there some of my best friends. Pray that we would be a mutual encouragement to each other.

  • Another brief week at home (repeat prayer request above) and then I am off to Virginia to spend time at the International Conference on Missions in a completely different capacity than usual. I will not be “on the clock” and at the booth in the same ways as I have previously. I will be a participant. I will be looking for opportunities to connect with others. This will be different, but I’m praying it will be full of wonderful little surprises. Join me in praying for that.

  • Finally, I come home for a much needed holiday to spend the rest of the month with my family — Thanksgiving!

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The Disorientation of the New https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2021-10-13-the-disorientation-of-the-new Wed, 13 Oct 2021 02:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com 6c4b1d55-5c31-4fac-a2f4-e7ab9bd96a6a A New Routine Now a month into my sabbatical, I wanted to reflect on what I’m seeing and sensing. To be honest, I was kind of dreading this, because I thought I would have very little to say. But to my surprise, I couldn’t be more wrong.

I can start with something I knew long before this sabbatical — I’m a highly anxious person who finds a lot of mental stability and emotional security in routine. There are many routines I have taken part in for well over a decade. I have pursued the same “package” of spiritual practices every morning for over twelve years. Of course, there are many things in my life that have changed, and some significant items almost seasonally. I can absorb this change because of the things in my life that do not change.

Yet, in this sabbatical, I am already having to loosen my grip on some of the things that have never changed, simply to embrace some of the other efforts that I prayerfully set out to engage in. This experience has been unsettling and challenging, but I sense it is very good for me in this season of sabbatical. Here are some new spaces that have invaded my life recently:

Being present without being responsible. I have very rarely allowed myself to be present at ministry functions without having responsibilities. If I’m going to take the time to be there, I am going to expend the energy to contribute. But in this season, we are intentionally letting others lead. We are soft-launching our campus ministry here in Cincinnati, and I have been present at events while Josh Bosse functions as team leader. I find myself observing and taking photos (something I have always been terrible at remembering). I absorb the events in a completely different way and am able to lead differently because of it.

Counseling. What can I say? The work of therapy is such a healthy thing for me as a husband, a father, and a leader.

Writing retreat. I am currently under contract with NavPress to write my first book. This is a completely new experience that has forced me into intentional, creative spaces, and an experience where I am vulnerable and open to a new kind of failure. I am learning every step of the way.

Writing cohort. Part of this new writing experience has pushed me to make sure I am around other professionals who are doing the same thing. I recently joined a writing cohort where I am learning about the process of writing and the significance of writing in leadership. I was taken aback at my first meeting as I realized how long it’s been since I put myself in a “learning” posture. Some of what was said surprised me as it peeled open previously unspoken things. I realized how lonely I had been in some of these spaces; I had not recognized this loneliness without the help of others who had been there.

Hebrew class. Everything I “know” about Hebrew has been self-taught — until now! I enrolled in some private Hebrew classes and they are challenging me in big ways. I haven’t been a student since the spring of 2005. What a weird “new” experience! I was a radically different person when I was a traditional student; the methods I had back then simply do not work with the new me. This has been a wicked learning curve — sometimes encouraging to see my growth, sometimes frustrating to have to reevaluate assumptions, sometimes refreshing to simply be fresh and new.

— — —

What I’m already learning in this sabbatical is the art of surrender. I need to surrender to new spaces, to new postures, to new ideas. I have given up things I have been doing for years in order to find out what might be lying behind this door or that opportunity. It’s been humbling, but life-giving. And I’m trying to take good notes.

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The Poetry https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2021-09-23-the-poetry Thu, 23 Sep 2021 01:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com fc6bee2f-8c06-451b-bf79-c868485b24c2 The poetic elements of a Sabbath Year. All of those nuts and bolts we discussed previously were a combination of our Policy and Procedures here at ICM and the principles we find in the biblical concepts about the Sabbath Year, which is also called shmitah.

So as I approached our organizational requirements for sabbaticals, I wanted to color those objectives with the principles of the Sabbath Year. Below are some of the notes filling my notebook from the previous year. The passages I used to reflect over that year are Exodus 23:10–13, Leviticus 25, and Deuteronomy 15 and 31. These principles are not meant to be technical nor comprehensive. They are poetic, broad strokes that breathe life into the structure that is time-tested for us at ICM.

Let the land lie fallow. The biblical concept here is not a metaphor or allegorical; it is very physical. The idea is that the real, physical land gets to rest. This speaks to our relationship with the land as well as how we relate to our work of the land. Since we’re not farmers or people who live in an agrocentric setting, how do we let this principle speak to us? First, I will attempt to be much more aware than normal of the ways I do relate to the physical land. Second, we did want to extend these principles into metaphor so we might learn something about our work. Since the closest thing to “harvest” that I experience is fundraising, we have made a commitment not to engage in direct fundraising for this time. This is actually unbelievably difficult, since I am not able to find my security in the regular cultivation of our support network. Instead, I step back and trust.

Provision for the poor. This is a year of being generous and sharing of what we have for those who have less among us. More than usual, I will say “yes” to those who ask; I will seek to give at each and every opportunity. I have started carrying a “Sabbath Year portion” of cash to give away in these opportunities. I am excited to share some of those stories. Simply put, we’re trying to say yes, rather than overthinking it this year. We are trying to walk toward those in need when we see it, rather than avoid.

No idolatry. I need to make sure that I don’t let worry take me captive and be heard on my lips. Trusting the story is important here as it will reveal the idolatry I have on the systems I typically place my daily trust in. I want to be aware, in this year, how idols will seek to grab my attention during a season that will test my obedience.

Canceling debts and forgiving loans. I don’t have any monetary loans out there. However, every month ICM staff are required to take and report on what we call our “Personal Retreat Days.” We take a work day to listen, journal, worship, pray, and reflect. During this year’s PRDs, I will be listening for those with whom I am keeping spiritual record. I will practice forgiveness more than I usually would in this year.

Reading Torah. This is a year for reading Torah as a family, so we will spend time every day reading from the Books of Moses.

— — —

These are the principles that will hopefully guide the stories I will share in the months to come. My prayer is that God will bless these efforts and I would respond to the times of testing with trust and faithfulness.

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The Nuts and Bolts https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2021-09-14-the-nuts-and-bolts Tue, 14 Sep 2021 01:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com d0664441-9ccb-4194-a8d7-a3e43a8dce8b The practical elements of a Sabbath Year. So before we get too far into this journey, I want to talk about the practicals. Am I stepping away from my work? Am I not doing the podcast? “You’re leaving for two years?!” No. No, I’m not. But we do have a commitment to take a break from the regular routine of things and approach our work in a way where God can refresh us and speak to us, because we’ve postured ourselves to listen in unique ways. Again, for most of our staff, this looks like a defined 100-day journey with cleaner boundaries. My journey will take a more ambiguous shape, but it is driven by the same elements in our Policy and Procedure Manual. What are those elements? Let me share them with you.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Your sabbatical is required to have an accountability structure. This means I have people I talk to on a regular basis about how my sabbatical is going, both inside and outside of the organization. I have two teammates who do this for me internally. Weekly phone calls with Lowell Kosak (ICM’s Director of Spiritual Formation and the champion of our sabbatical efforts) and Jeff Vander Laan (ICM’s Vice President, and no relation to the teacher who influenced me). I also have a new counselor/therapist for the next year and am procuring a spiritual director for year two. I’m excited to talk and share more about this part of my journey.

FAMILY RENEWAL: Your sabbatical needs to bring physical rest and spiritual renewal to your family. Part of the counseling mentioned above will be targeting specific areas we would like to examine and work on as a couple, both as spouses and as parents. We are also planning a big family vacation a couple years from now. It happens to be the confluence of my 40th birthday, our 20th wedding anniversary, and my wife’s 40th birthday—seems like a good time to celebrate. We want to go to the UK and visit the land of our ancestry and talk about our “family narrative.” That should be fun to share, too.

PERSONAL RENEWAL: You need to intentionally make sure you are spiritually renewed during this time as well. I am finally taking two years of Hebrew classes that I’ve put off forever! Our family is going to read the Torah over the first year together. The Executive Team helped me retool my usual event schedule for the year, so some events I will not attend and others I will attend with a different intent and from a different role. Again, you should see here a change in posture and an ability to see and hear things you wouldn’t encounter in other ways.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: You need to intentionally develop and sharpen your professional skills during this time. I want to bring more organizational and cultural alignment to my work. I am always engaging things that help me develop in a “productive” sense; even the things listed above as “personal renewal” actually contribute to my professional development. What I struggle with is actually remembering our counter-intuitive commitment to prayer and intimacy with Jesus. I need to make sure I am committed to this alignment for these two years. The first year, my word for reflection is listening. The second year, my word is gratitude. I will enjoy writing about these reflections.

COVERING THE VOID: Make sure that all your roles will be covered in your absence. Since my “absence” is not as defined, the needs here aren’t dramatic. We’re doing some things to cover some fundraising efforts, but the concern here is minimal.

So those are the organizational nuts and bolts that drive the execution of our sabbaticals. We have those bases covered. What about the biblical principles of the Sabbath Year? We’ll talk about that next time.

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The Sabbath Year https://www.bemadiscipleship.com/articles/2021-09-06-sabbath-year Mon, 06 Sep 2021 00:00:00 -0700 bemacohost@gmail.com a8780ce6-44cc-4fe2-b7c8-bb15ead1b206 Rosh Hashanah, the High Holidays, and the Sabbath Year Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah and ushers in what is called the High Holidays of the Jewish Calendar. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and leads into ten days of introspection, reflection, confession, and repentance. Those days, also called the “Days of Awe,” will lead into Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement). You can read more about these holidays (and others) at Chabad or even watch my “Festival Edition” playlist over on YouTube.

The High Holidays this year also usher in what is known as shmitah, or the Sabbath Year. Today, Rabbinic Judaism has ruled that Sabbath Year is directly connected to the land of Israel itself. Because of this, there are no requirements for Jews who live outside the land of Israel. It is, however, a fascinating study in the principles of Sabbath and what God desired His people experience in the land when they entered it thousands of years ago.

Impact Campus Ministries requires all full-time staff to take a sabbatical every seven years. For most of our staff, this looks like 100 days of what we call a “working sabbatical.” It is a paid time of planned, prepared engagement and accountability structures. It is not just 100 days of vacation, although we will often “unplug” from our usual communication (email, etc.) during this time. It is guided by objectives in our organization’s Policy and Procedures Manual and is a very intentional practice for our staff.

For me and my family, instead of engaging in that typical 100-day approach, we will be combining these same objectives with the principles and timeline of the biblical Sabbath Year. I look forward to sharing those notes with you over the year to come and inviting you into this unique sabbath space. I also look forward to sharing stories and prayer requests. There is so much to discuss and talk about!

For now, I simply want to invite you to this space and introduce these ideas. I will be using this blog space to keep a Sabbatical Journal during my experience and I invite you to follow along.

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