This week I’m teaching on rest and renewal at the Acts 29 national conference in Dallas. For years I have been urging the spiritual leaders around me to observe regular times of solitude, silence, and reflection. Ideally I try to take a day of solitude every 6-8 weeks.

Those familiar with the weight and burden of leadership usually agree with the principle of solitude, but often ask the practical question: what do you actually do on a day of solitude? Here’s my answer.

  1. Look Inward. I spend a good portion of the day taking stock of my own heart. How am I feeling? What’s the state of my soul? What am I thinking about, wondering about, burdened about? Is there sin in my heart that needs to be confessed? Are there unseen ‘stressors’ that come to the surface when I slow down long enough to listen? I talk about these things with God in prayer. Then I usually write about them. I don’t journal regularly – but I do journal every time I take a day of solitude.
  2. Look Upward. I spend time worshipping God. This takes many forms: singing, praying, reading Scripture, listening to the Spirit’s prompting, enjoying Him. When the weather is nice, I often worship just by sitting outside and enjoying the created world. It’s amazing how loudly creation worships God – birds, wind, water – when you take time to listen.
  3. Look Backward. I look back over past journals and notes. How has God been at work in my life? What was I concerned about a year ago, two years ago, five years ago? What evidences of His grace do I see? What progress have I made? What progress haven’t I made? Have I acted appropriately on areas of past discernment?
  4. Look Forward. I spend some time thinking about my current and future priorities. What do I need to be doing? How do I sense God leading? How could I be better investing my God-given energies? Where do I need to push forward? Where do I need to wait on God?

In addition to what to do on a day of solitude here are helpful hints about how to take a day of solitude:

  • Plan Ahead. Don’t tell me you don’t have time. You DO. You just have to plan for it. Either you control your calendar, or it controls you. Stop living in the tyranny of the urgent and use your calendar to set boundaries: “I’m sorry, I can’t meet with you on that day, I’m already booked.” The fact that you’re “booked” with an appointment with the Holy Spirit shouldn’t give you pause at all… after all, he is a person.
  • Leave Early. Get up early and get out of the house and out of the city before everyone else does. An early start helps you make the most of the day.
  • No Distractions. Rigorously ensure silence and contemplation. Cell phone off. Email closed. Wi-fi disabled. Setting free of distractions. Someplace away from the patterns of your everyday life, where silence is possible and solitude is valued. Those places are becoming fewer and fewer – but they exist. Seek and you shall find. My favorite spots: a friend’s lakehouse, a Benedictine monastery, and a Christian camp.
  • Be Patient. Solitude is a spiritual discipline – which means that it’s a habit formed over time. The first few times you set aside a day for this purpose, you may experience nothing but static and distraction. Don’t give up.

**One Final Note:  Young pastors – especially those in missional churches – are usually good at disciplines of engagement: study, preaching, evangelism, mercy, hospitality. But they’re notoriously bad at disciplines of abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, prayer.

If you want to be a healthy leader, you need to rigorously protect your schedule to allow for regular times of solitude.

Coram Deo Church began on August 28, 2005. For three months we met as a closed group to pray and build unity around our vision and values. Finally, on November 27, 2005, we gathered for Coram Deo’s first public worship service.

The audio from that service, if it ever existed, is long gone. But in preparation for celebrating our 10-year birthday, I found my notes from the sermon I preached that day. So here they are: the notes I took into the pulpit with me for the very first sermon at Coram Deo Church.

CORAM DEO
LAUNCH SUNDAY: NOV 27, 2005
INCARNATION: UNIQUE

WELCOME
I want to welcome all of you to Coram Deo this morning. My name is Bob, I am the lead pastor here, which means I do most of the teaching. And I want to give you a perspective on how we view teaching here, so you know what to expect.

  • Focus: Spiritual Formation and Mission
  • Style: Relaxed Teaching & Dialogue
  • Starting Point: Christian Presuppositions
  • Point: Provoke Thought and Urge You Toward Obedience to Christ

This morning, there are people at many places in this room.

  • Some of you are committed followers of Jesus Christ. And I want you to know that the Core of Coram Deo is made up of a group of people who are lovers of Christ and are attempting to follow Him with our lives.
  • Some of you would claim to be followers of Jesus, but no one would know it by looking at your life, which means you’re not actually following
  • Some of you are not sure where you are spiritually, and you’re here to investigate.
  • Some of you are ambivalent and agnostic.
  • Some of you may even think this Jesus stuff is nuts, but you know someone in this room and trust them enough to check it out.
  • Wherever you are on that spectrum this morning, this message is for you.

What I want to do this morning and for the next few weeks is to put the spotlight on the central message of the Bible and of Christian spirituality. I want to put the focus the very person of Jesus himself. Because if you are going to be offended by something, or if you’re going to be drawn to something, I want it to be Jesus. If you are a worshipper of Christ here today, I want you to love him more when you walk out the door. And if you are a skeptic or an agnostic or an atheist, I want you to walk out wrestling with the real Jesus (not some stereotypical Jesus who doesn’t even exist). When it comes down to it, the issue is: what are you going to do with Jesus?

So allow me to pray for you and us, and then let’s begin.

INTRODUCTION
Inside every human soul, there is a longing for truth. In fact, the Bible says that we all intuitively know that truth exists; it’s just that we suppress the truth in order to avoid its implications for our lives. I can see that tendency in my own heart, and you probably can too.

My son Lewis is good at suppressing the truth. (Illustration: Lewis turning off his night light – suppressing the truth).

In spite of our attempts to suppress or avoid the truth, we intuitively know that God exists. And our intuition tells us two things about what God should be like.

  • God must be Transcendent (distinct from creation; exalted; powerful; infinite; beyond us).
  • God must be Personal (knowable; engaged in the world; understanding us).

The problem is that these two areas are in tension. If God is transcendent, if he is removed from us, how can he be involved in our lives? And if he is personal and immanent and part of our world, how can he possibly be beyond us?

And so, because of this tension, religions tend to embrace either one side or the other.

  • In Hinduism, God is Brahman: a mysterious essence that is so other that it can’t even be defined in personal terms.
  • In Buddhism, the goal is nirvana, which is a state of total nothingness where the person – the I – ceases to exist. The whole goal is to eliminate the personal.
  • In Taoism, the Tao is an impersonal force of existence that cannot be known in any personal sense.
  • All three of these religions have a deity who is so transcendent as to be removed from human life and incapable of being understood in personal terms.
  • On the other side, you have religions where the deity is personal but not transcendent.
  • The most familiar example is Greek and Roman mythology, where the gods are basically glorified humans who can be limited or conquered by human ingenuity.
  • In Shintoism, there are many gods who continue to be procreated by other gods; these gods inhabit the material world and can be persuaded through offerings to do good or evil.
  • In Animistic religion, gods are a part of nature, and can be controlled or manipulated by humans.
  • So these religious systems have a god who is personal; but not transcendent.

We intuitively know that God must be both Transcendent and Personal; and yet the religious systems of the world have no way of reconciling the two.

There’s one exception to the rule: and that is Christian spirituality. The Bible reveals a God who is both Transcendent and Personal. Its central figure is Jesus Christ, who was at the same time fully God, and fully human. Transcendent, and Personal. He upholds the universe by his power; and yet he walked among us. In Christian theology, Jesus’ coming to earth and taking on a human body is called the Incarnation. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas: the fact that the Virgin Mary bore a child who was the Son of God. God became human.

For the next four weeks, we are going to look at this most important teaching of the Bible: the doctrine of the Incarnation.

So here’s the big idea for this week: The Incarnation makes Jesus utterly unique.

(I want you to walk out of here today convinced that Jesus is not an option in the religious cafeteria, but that he stands alone as utterly unique! That he is in a class by himself.)

To make that case, I want us to look at a biblical passage together. So open a Bible if you have it to John chapter 1. John is the 4th book in the NT. I will also have some of the verses on the screen behind me if you don’t have a Bible.

Let me set the stage:

  • John was one of Jesus’ disciples
  • Writing this book when he is very old; looking back on his friendship with Jesus.
  • Written “so you might believe.” So this is not just biography; this is intended to be a persuasive book. It is intended to convince you that Jesus is God! That’s why John wrote it.
  • So, put yourself in John’s shoes. After years of following Jesus, you’re sitting down to write this book. Everyone is sort of interested in your take on things, because you’re the last living apostle. Where do you start?
  • Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John chose to start with this fact of the Incarnation. He chose to start by drawing out the fact that in Jesus, the divine and the human meet.
  • Restate Big Idea: The Incarnation makes Jesus utterly unique.
  • So let’s read together the introduction to his book. I want to read it a little differently: we’re going to read verses 1 and 14, because they are the bookends of this section; and then we’ll read what’s in between.

TEXT:

  • John 1:1 – “the Word” is John’s term for the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity. Point: Jesus (the Word) was God. Plain as day.
  • John 1:14 – point: Jesus became human.

So the whole message of John’s gospel surrounds the Incarnation: that Jesus was God in human flesh. That the 2nd person of the Trinity came down and lived among us. The Incarnation makes Jesus utterly unique.

Now, let’s look at what’s in between.

Verses 2-4:

  • Observations: Jesus was there in the beginning; everything was made through him; he has life in himself; he brings light into a dark world. The essence of all these images John is using is this: Jesus is Transcendent. Jesus is Absolute. Jesus is wholly other. He is in another category.
  • Illustrate: To catch the uniqueness of Jesus here, just substitute someone else’s name in the passage and see how ridiculous it sounds. Derek was in the beginning… Through Derek all things were made…

Now, in verses 6,7,8 he talks about John the Baptist, which is important to the gospel of John, but not to our inquiry this morning. So skip down to verses 9-11:

  • Observations: Jesus came into the world (note repetition). John has just told us that Jesus is Transcendent; now he’s telling us that Jesus is Personal. He is knowable. He came among us. This being who is totally transcendent, who created everything, came into the world – and in a way that the world did not recognize him.
  • Illustration: when people are powerful, they make sure you recognize them. A few years ago I attended a political “meet and greet” at the Happy Hollow Country Club. My uncle is a senator, and he was running for election and trying to make connections with people. At this breakfast were gathered some of the big names in Nebraska politics: Chuck Hagel, Mike Johanns, Hal Daub, etc. And you had to work hard not to trip over all the egos in the room! When people are powerful, they make sure you recognize them.
  • Jesus came into the world – the very world He created – and yet it did not recognize him. And he did not fight for power or notoriety or acceptance; he humbly walked the earth, and taught people about God, and allowed himself to be rejected!

Jesus is Transcendent. He is the Creator God. Yet Jesus is Personal. He was born in a human body, into a human culture, and lived a human life.

The Incarnation makes Jesus utterly unique.

CONCLUSION
Now: I want to confess something to you that hopefully will help you connect the dots.

My confession is this: My Big Idea was going to be: The Incarnation is what makes Christianity unique.

Do you see the subtle difference? I’m ashamed to admit it. But I was actually going to preach this whole message defending a religious system called Christianity.

Now it’s not that I have anything against Christianity. But the focus of Christianity was always supposed to be Jesus! And unfortunately, in our day, many Christians and churches exist to defend a religious system instead of exalting a person named Jesus. So the focus has become: you should be a Christian instead of a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Taoist, because our system is better. Because we have more to offer you.

The issue is not the system. The issue is Jesus. The Incarnation makes Jesus utterly unique.

This morning, I’m not out to sell you on Christianity. I’m out to hold before you the person of Jesus. And to say: this man is utterly unique! He is worthy either to be followed, or to be fought against; but not to be ignored.

And if he is worthy to be followed, then he is worthy of your entire life. I am out to destroy this morning the idea of casual Christianity. The idea that you can take the name “Christian” or “follower of Jesus” and then just add that title to the life you’re already living. Christianity the System allows you to do that. Jesus the God-man does not. He calls for nothing less than a total realignment of your life.

Look at what John says about him in verses 12-13 (read). Jesus says he can give you the right to become a child of God; one born of God.

That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus. A total realignment of everything. And it all centers around this person named Jesus, who is both Transcendent and Personal, God and man, divine and human.

The Incarnation makes Jesus utterly unique. Get past the trappings of religion and lay your eyes on Jesus, who gives people the right to become children of God.

What season of life are you in as a man? And how should that affect your approach to life?

Justin Curtis recently preached “A Word to Men” at Coram Deo Church from Titus 2:1-10. In his sermon he referenced “The Four Seasons of a Man’s Life” from the Authentic Manhood material (an excellent teaching series for men that I can’t recommend highly enough).

In my opinion these four basic seasons are critical for every man to grasp. Just think about the 42-year-old guy who’s trying to act like he’s 22, or the 25-year-old guy who hasn’t taken responsibility for himself and his own future, and you can see why embracing each season and transitioning well is crucial.

Below is a summary of the four seasons of every man’s life. What season are you in? What season are the men around you in? How can you help them live into the fullness of that season?

Spring Season | Age 0-20

  • Theme: IDENTITY
  • The key to this stage is transitioning to adulthood well
  • The key questions of this stage:
    • Who am I? What are my talents?
    • Who am I not? What are my limitations?

Summer Season | Age 20-40

  • Themes: LEARNING & GROWING
  • The key to this stage is perfecting your skill set and distinguishing your expertise in some area of life that contributes to the good of society.
  • Key questions for your 20’s:
    • What do I want out of life?
    • Where will I distinguish myself professionally?
    • How am I different from my parents?
    • What do I really believe?
    • Around what person or conviction will I organize my life?
  • Key questions for your 30s
    • How do I prioritize the demands made on my life?
    • Have I allowed enough time for a vibrant spiritual life and authentic relationships?

Fall Season | Age 40-60

  • Theme: INFLUENCE
  • Key questions for this stage:
    • Have I achieved everything I wanted?
    • Do I have dreams that are unfulfilled?
    • Can my mistakes be redeemed?
    • Are my accomplishments fulfilling?
    • The major danger of this season mid-life crisis: an escape to numb the pain of past sin/failures or futile attempts to relive the past.

Winter Season | Age 60 +

  • Theme: INVESTMENT
  • Those who have lived the seasons of manhood well are now marked by composure, maturity, and insight.
  • Young men don’t see you as competition, but as a champion – which gives you tremendous access to mentor and invest in the next generation.
  • The greatest danger of this season is for a man to buy the lie that he can no longer contribute.
  • The major opportunity of this season is to take advantage of your flexibility and to be a blessing to those around you.

For more on the four seasons of a man’s life, check out 33: The Series, Volume 1: A Man and His Design