I’ve got my eye on the goal

Once again, I go to Dale Wolyniak’s quote about a sabbatical,  “A ministry sabbatical is ideally quite different from a traditional academic sabbatical or a sabbatical practiced in business. It is about the spirit and soul being refreshed, renewed, and redirected.”  As time goes on,  I feel my spirit and soul allowing itself to be more refreshed. I see God’s loving hand bringing renewal, the “replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down or broken” in my life.

Redirection is being directed to a new or different place or purpose. As I look ahead to the end of this sabbatical, God is doing His good work in this area as well. One of the great joys of this sabbatical has been all the good reports coming out of our church. So many good things are happening. The pastors are doing a great job. Leaders have stepped up in wonderful ways. We continue to move forward in answering God’s call. God is so faithful and continues to lead our church forward, whether I am there or not. Yes, Jesus said, “I will build My church,” and He is. The church is growing. The leaders are growing. And I must grow as well.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”    Ben Franklin

Yes, God has been directing us all to a new place, a new level. Things cannot be the same when I return. It cannot be the “old same old same old.” This is His church and God is bringing redirection in my life as I prepare to head back. A passage that I ponder often is Phil. 3:12-14. Eugene Peterson articulates this passage well in his paraphrase from The Message:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

God has a call for me that hasn’t changed. It’s not finished yet. I’m on my way. Sometimes, because of my frailty and stubbornness, it’s been two steps forward and one step back. Or times when it has been one step forward and two steps back. I don’t have this all together. I don’t have it made. But I’m on my way. I am far from being an expert but I do have my eye on the goal. And I’m not turning back.

So what how is God redirecting me? In many ways, both big and small.

  • He is drawing me closer to Him. I am asking God to teach me how to experience Isa. 26:3-4. You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.”
  • I am learning to trust Him more and let go of control. How wonderful the words of 2 Pet. 1:3-4. By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” 
  • He is giving me insights for the next steps of His call for our church and my life. As Grandma Leong loves to pray from Isa. 58:11,The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring,” I am seeking with renewed passion God’s guidance. I will need God’s guidance now, more than ever. 

It’s an exciting time but with all this refreshing, renewing and redirecting going on, God is also preparing me, character-wise to walk in a manner worthy of my calling. I am learning more tough but essential lessons. It’s been difficult to see my weaknesses and my lack of faith exposed by the loving hand of My Father. But it is good. I’m still a person under much construction. But that’s a story for another time.

another step…



lessons along the way

Being on a sabbatical has been very interesting. As it so often is following the Lord, it hasn’t gone as I expected. Dale Wolyniak wrote in a very helpful booklet, Sabbaticals for Minsters, “A ministry sabbatical is ideally quite different from a traditional academic sabbatical or a sabbatical practiced in business. It is about the spirit and soul being refreshed, renewed, and redirected.” Preparing for this sabbatical, I began to relish the thought of being refreshed.

Being in ministry all these years and starting a church have been amazing. I cannot imagine doing anything else. Enjoy the friendships, serving alongside the greatest people, and making new friends along the way have been the greatest! I thank God all the time for the privilege of serving him in this capacity. It’s been awesome! But little did I know how much emotional energy was spent and how “tired” I had become. Entering my seventh decade adds to this as well. All the leadership challenges, the weekly gearing up for worship services, administrative responsibilities, emergencies, tragedies, relational challenges and conflicts, criticism, and continual spiritual warfare does take a toll. Yup, after 27 years of ministry, I realized I was a bit weary. It showed up in sleep challenges, physical ailments and difficulty dealing emotionally with things that should have been no big deal.  Now, this is not meant to be a sob story. No, not at all. Yes, during this sabbatical, I discovered how weary I was. But more importantly, far more importantly, I have experienced the extreme goodness and love of God my Father. It has been a humbling but gratifying experience to see and experience firsthand how much God loves me. I am beginning to see the light!


I struggled with the idea of taking a sabbatical, especially at this important season in our church. Honestly, I really didn’t want to go, not now. But through the counsel and encouragement of some amazing individuals and elders, I decided to go through with it. The quote from Dale Wolyniak resonates with me more and more during this sabbatical adventure. Being refreshed was so appealing to me as I began. My spirit and soul cried out, as well as my body, for refreshment. And yes, God has been faithful.

Eugene Peterson wrote in an article, Sabbatical Is Not Study Leave, words that have challenged and inspired me during this sabbatical.

“If we are going to take sabbaticals, let them be real sabbaticals: a willed passivity in order to be resorted to alert receptivity to spirit-prayer, silence, solitude, worship. It is outrageous that we acquiesce to the world’s definition of our word and let our unique, biblical sabbatical be put to the use of career advancement, psychological adjustment, and intellectual polish–with all the prayer and contemplation laundered out. The original intent of Sabbath  is a time to be silent and listen to God, not attend lectures; a time to be in solitude and be with God, not “interact” with fatigued peers. If help is to be given to the pastor in midcourse, it is not going to come by infusion of intellect, but by renewal of spirit.” 

Powerful words that I am taking to heart. I marvel how God has so orchestrated the events in my life to teach me a great lesson–how to abide in Him. I often think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

I am praying more and more, especially in this sabbatical season that Jesus would teach me and I would find rest for my soul. I have slowly begun to feel refreshed. I am slowly understanding what is at God’s heart for my sabbatical. I am slowly learning that “…it is not going to come by infusion of intellect, but by renewal of spirit.”

Believe it or not, I am enjoying the journey more and focusing less on getting to wherever I am going, physically and spiritually.


As far as being renewed and redirected…well that’s a story for another day. Thank you, Jesus, for teaching me to rest. Thank you for your faithfulness, patience and goodness. I am humbled by your love for me. Thank you!

another step…

btw, props to my son John for taking the pics. Thanks, John!



hi, my name is Mark, and I’m a people pleaser

Being on sabbatical is sort of weird. First it felt like a day off. Then like a long weekend. After a week, it felt like a vacation. And now, I begin to enter uncharted territory. The strangest feeling of all? No ministry responsibilities! That’s so strange. I feel relieved and guilty at the same time. It’s only just begun but I sense I will learn a lot during this sabbatical adventure.

These past two days I have been reading and re-reading Matthew 6. It’s one of those times where you sense God’s leading to stay in a certain passage and not to move on. To stay there, ponder, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. It’s been a good exercise. Something that really struck me reading this passage was Jesus’ teaching and exhortation about reward.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18

Some thoughts that came to mind were:

  • Jesus never said that seeking a reward is bad. In fact, He said that the key was seeking out the right reward. That’s where I get into trouble.
  • The temptation to seek out the approval, adulation, and applause of others is greater than I thought.
  • God wants to reward me.
  • More often than I thought or chose to admit, I see the approval, adulation and applause of others.

I pondered this passage, allowed the Holy Spirit to lovingly speak to me and opened my heart and life to His light. As I did, I realized how often I sought the approval of others. I knew this was something I did but not really to the extent I actually do! I do it with my wife. I do it with my kids. I do it in ministry. I do it being out and about in the city. With friends. With strangers. I even do it with my puppy. It’s been a real eye opener to see how I mixed up approval, adulation and applause with love. I am called to love. I need to love. I have been created to love. But I often mistake love with the desire to have people like me for what I do. Love is doing things motivated by care and concern for others. The focus is on others. Seeking out the wrong reward is motivated by my insecurity and desire to be liked. The focus is on me.

Again, allowing this passage to sink into my heart and mind, I see why Jesus contrasted the two rewards. He was warning us of something that can lead us down the wrong path. For right after teaching these things, Jesus said these words. Words I thought were unrelated and focusing on another lesson. But today, for now, it brought His lesson to me home.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matt. 6:19-21

“For where my treasure is, there my heart will be also.” There it is! That’s Jesus’ lesson and warning (in love) for me. “Be careful Mark, what reward you go after. Be careful what treasures you are storing up for yourself. Be careful because where your treasure is, your heart will there and that will be the reward you will go after.” 

How wonderful God is to lovingly call me on something that will cause me to miss out on His very best for me. What an awesome Father, who would warn me like that! What a wonderful Lord and Savior and friend who would speak words, true words, to set me free! What an incredible Holy Spirit, who would lovingly and tenderly lead me into all truth.

It’s exciting to think that God has given me this time to focus on Him and to set me apart to learn to seek after true reward and to store up true treasures. What greater reward and treasure I can experience than the presence, the love and smile of God! But I can’t do this on my own. I am a people pleaser at heart. I need the power of the Holy Spirit to go after what is true reward and treasure. I need His power to truly abide in Him.

“Father, thank you for this journey. Thank you for your correction, warning, exhortation, instruction and even discipline. I am growing to believe that you really love me, that I am truly your son! Yes, you want the very best for me. But more than that, you actually want me. May I grow to believe that in greater ways. Thank you for your patience and love. In Jesus’ Name, amen!”

another step …


decompression [dee-kuh m-presh-uh n] noun. the act or process of releasing from pressure.

I am officially on my sabbatical! It started last week but before I could really press into what God is leading me to, I realized I needed to decompress. I have heard that when you go scuba diving at a certain depth, you will need to slowly and methodically ascent from the depth. If you ascent too quickly, the body cannot adjust to the pressure and will experience decompression sickness commonly referred to as the “bends.”

While decompressing from ministry is not life-threatening as “the bends” can be, it’s still important. I decided I needed to take the time to decompress. As I struggled decompressing over the course of seven days, I learned or was reminded of some things in my life. Here’s some of the stuff I realized:

  • It is necessary for me to decompress before I can rest in the Lord.
  • Ministry is on my mind almost all of my waking hours and even as I try to sleep.
  • I need to have other interests that I enjoy other than ministry related matters.
  • I am wired or have become used to “doing” rather than “being.”
  • I need change. It hasn’t been the healthiest of mindsets.

I thank God for His leading to decompress. As I worked on removing all our kitchen cabinets, due to termites, tried to figure some semblance of order in our makeshift kitchen and bathroom dishwashing station, washing and polishing my car, fixing our screen door, working on all the details of our Japan adventure, washing and cleaning our living room rug, as well as other stuff, God was slowly helping me to let go of my “ministry mentality.” I guess being physically tired helps the process.

As the first week of the sabbatical ended, I felt a lot more ready to truly rest in Him. The primary focus of this sabbatical, learning to truly abide in Jesus, became a lot more important and motivating. I feel my spirit beginning to yearn for this. But I will need the help of the Holy Spirit to keep my focus and not worry about how quickly the days pass without noticeable improvement. I need His help to rest in the truth that this is a process, perhaps a lifelong adventure for me according to God’s timing, and the willingness of my heart. That’s the challenge for me.

Something that kept coming to mind over the last seven days is the importance of learning to decompress every week and really every day, and not just wait for a sabbatical. I kept thinking about Jesus and the pressurized life of ministry He lived while on earth. Some verses that came to mind.

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” Mark 1:35

“Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them.” Luke 4:42

But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Luke 5:16

“One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.” Luke 6:12

“Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. There he told them, “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” Luke 22:39-40

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” Mark 1:35

Something Jesus did on a regular basis was getting away from the pressures of ministry to decompress. I need to learn how to do that. In the busyness of ministry, it is vital to get away and decompress.

“Lord, like the disciples, I ask, “Teach me to pray.” And I also ask, “Teach me when to pray. Teach me to get away to spend time with you. To decompress from the pressures of ministry and just rest in your presence. You are the vine and I am but a branch. Teach me to abide in You.”

Another step…