The following story you may have already read on this blog. I apologize if that’s the case, but the consequences of this story I am still working out.
This time last year, I was pretty sure of myself and my direction in life. I had just moved to Lexington, and the path in front of me (so I thought) was very clear, especially given the reasons I had for moving up: the girl I dated was in Lexington, and I knew that at my home church we had talked about planting a church in Lexington, and I was keen on that. I was reading books about ministry and church planting, trying to talk myself into being ready for it.
And I was in the mixer with ministry – I’d been serving on the worship team for years, leading worship and otherwise just being in the band; I’d been in children’s ministry; I’d led small groups, I was on the church council, and I was the back-up preacher, the guy they called when our pastor was out of town and someone needed to preach. The best thing? I enjoyed all of that. A lot, actually. I felt so much fulfillment being a part of ministry, and giving myself to something week in and week out. I loved sermon prep – the studying, the writing, the doubting (yourself, of course) and the revision. I loved preaching – there was no greater thrill for me than to get up and proclaim the truth to people in a way that was (I hope) understandable and relevant. I took a lot of pride in taking a chunk of scripture – New Testament or Old – and turning it back to Jesus all of the time. There’s nothing I’ve ever enjoyed more, I’d venture.
So in a lot of ways, I was pretty well groomed for church planting. It made a lot of sense for me to do it, but for some reason (or reasons,) I couldn’t bring myself to get ready for it. For starters, I was completely unmotivated to undergo the licensing process, which could have been down to a couple of things – I was pretty busy and preoccupied with a new position I got at my job, which took a lot of my time (couple that with the fact that I’m not a terribly driven personality and I don’t necessarily use my free time for anything productive,) and I wasn’t terribly convinced by the movement we were a part of. It’s not that I doubted or disagreed with Foursquare, it’s that when I thought about planting a church, I didn’t think, “this place needs a Foursquare church.” I also had some doubts because I felt (at the time) like I was the only person – besides our pastor – at the church who was thinking about planting a church. I was starting to feel like it was a one-man job.
After weighing all of that, I made a couple of decisions. I sat down with my pastor (who, by the way, is also one of my best friends, a spiritual father, and whose wisdom and counsel I still cherish to this day, just so you know…) and talked to him about all of this. I told him that I felt a church plant was going nowhere, and that if a church plant was going nowhere, then there wasn’t a big point in me staying (because, I told myself, it’s hard to be in community with people who are 40 miles away, as my church was. It’s hard to keep up with the day-to-day stuff when you can’t come down day-to-day. It was easier to be more involved when I lived in Berea [where my church was] or Richmond [same county.] But Lexington got hard – you have to get all the way to the interstate and then take it about 30 miles to get to Berea. Not something I can do every day.) I also told myself that I was so exhausted from running around with my job all week that the last thing I wanted to do was to make a trip on Sundays to another county and stay there for a big chunk of the day. I barely got a day off all week, and Sunday felt like another work day most of the time, so I didn’t want to do that to myself.
So here I was – a kid in a new city, with a new job, leaving the one thing left that was really stable. At the end of the year, I left.
Am I happier for it?
No, not yet.
Am I better for it?
Jury’s out, but for now – no.
Will I be okay?
Yeah, probably, we’ll see. I’m thinking so.
Let’s have a quick word on me and my weakness, and then on God and His sovereignty.
See, sometimes I come home to my apartment and I feel absolutely empty. I feel at times that I have no reference point, no starting point, nothing I can hold on to. When I open my Bible in the mornings, I feel lost again. Not so much lost as in I think I’m going to hell or that I’m not saved, I mean lost as in disoriented, directionless, unsure of where to go or what to do. I mean that sometimes my spiritual life feels like it’s without theme or reinforcement – until I get to a point at which I’m consistently in community with people again, growing with people together, studying the Bible together, then I don’t think I will feel like there’s theme or reinforcement.
I feel weak lately. Very weak. I feel that I’ve made decisions that aren’t necessarily Gospel-informed. I feel unable to find my feet and keep my balance. I think the solution is community, and yet I find myself uncommitted to community, which is ironic because it is the one thing I believe is the cure for the weakness that comes with being isolated. I’ve tried to overcome this weakness with more sermon podcasts, more worship music, more Christian books, and none of them work. I’ve even gone to church every Sunday for the last month (a record streak for me since I left my home church) and I still don’t feel better. I still feel confused, I still feel misguided, I still feel somewhat blinded.
And I notice that the common strand is that every time an opportunity for community comes up, I turn it down for something else. Every Sunday night at my new church, Turning Point, there’s a group for newer members that helps you get plugged in and connect. The last two weeks (since I really decided to start going) I’ve made other plans on Sunday nights. I’ve chosen against it. And that’s on me.
The dichotomy I find at work (and it’s such a Kingdom dichotomy) is this: you are ultimately responsible for your own spiritual growth, but you can’t grow without other people. That is, I can’t sit here and blame outside factors for the reason I’ve let myself get where I am – I can’t blame geography, I can’t blame the numerous distractions I have at the moment, I can’t blame my job, I can’t blame my friends. I can only blame myself – the pattern of choices that I’ve made to keep myself isolated and out of community. Community is there to be had if I commit myself to it – but I need to be proactive about it. I can’t wait to be invited to everything, I can’t sit and lament that nobody calls or texts me. I have to go get it. Because I’m convinced you can’t grow alone. God uses the church to tell the world about Himself, and that includes the church. What I mean is – God uses the church to tell the church about Himself. I can’t tell myself forever, because I’m prone to doubt. We’re all prone to doubt. We need each other.
There may be no more powerful words in any form of communication – but God.
See – yes, I have problems. Yes, I’ve changed. Yes, I’ve made choices.
But God is true, and God is constant. I take comfort in the thought that the God I preached so confidently not even a year ago is still ruling and reigning, and He’s every bit as powerful, loving, gracious, true, just, wise, and sovereign as He was then. (I say these things as a preacher as a reminder to myself, as a reference point.)
God hasn’t changed.
God isn’t sitting there saying, “Oh, no! Jeff moved to Lexington and he left River of Life! My eternal plan is ruined!” God doesn’t look at each choice I make and lament how I’m unraveling the intricately woven threads of human history.
God, I believe, is sitting as He always has – ruling and reigning, willing to give guidance when I ask, not imposing Himself when I don’t. And, as usual, He wants what’s best in terms of spiritual growth for me – I believe there are choices I make that He smiles at and choices I make that make Him grimace, but none of them change His sovereign love, His sovereign grace, or His sovereign plan.
It holds true that God created the heavens and the earth.
It holds true that God had (and still has) a perfect plan for humanity, and a design for it.
It holds true that we deviated from our design and invited sin into the picture.
It holds true that we are broken as a result.
It holds true that we were separated from God as a result.
It holds true that if we were ever to be reunited with Him, He would have to do something.
It holds true that He did.
It holds true that Jesus came into the world, He lived a sinless life, He preached, He worked miracles, He told of the Father, He broke expectations and He broke chains, and He was arrested and sentenced to death despite being innocent.
It holds true that He was beaten, His clothes were torn from His body, and they drove a crown of thorns into His head.
It holds true that He dragged a cross on the road to Calvary on His back that was already wounded beyond recognition, every pound of the heavy cross forcing more and more blood and pressure on the wound.
It holds true that they drove nails through His hands and His feet, and hung Him high for everyone to see, and He died on that cross.
It holds true that three days later, after being buried in a tomb, the disciples found the tomb empty, and Jesus appeared to them again. That is, it holds true that He’s alive.
It holds true that He ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He sits (as in, He doesn’t have to work anymore) and it still holds true that the universe exists through Him and for Him.
It holds true that the Church carries His message to the world – far and wide.
It holds true that the Church exists to proclaim the manifest wisdom of God – that is, the Gospel – to the entirety of the cosmos.
It holds true that Jesus will come again to rule and reign on this earth – which will be redeemed and made new – and we will live forever with Him.
None of that has ever changed, and none of it ever will. God is sovereign. He isn’t confined geographically, He isn’t confined circumstantially. He isn’t confined by any amount of human wisdom or understanding, by any advancement of technology and science, or any other human invention.
So what does change?
[this is the part where I spin back to myself and get a little introspective – try to get to the bottom of what’s going on.]
That has to be the only explanation for the way I’ve been feeling, for the ways I’ve acted, and for the situation I find myself in. Somewhere along the line, I changed. See, there was a time – not even that long ago – when I found all of my purpose in the Gospel. Giving myself to the church and to ministry was all that I wanted to do. Proclaiming that story (see: every sentence that starts with “it holds true” above) was everything to me. It was my favorite thing to do, it was my hobby, my job, my short-term and my long-term goal.
Somehow that changed. Somewhere along the line, I made a choice that the Gospel wasn’t my ultimate focus anymore. I’m not even really sure when or where. Was it the first Sunday in January when I decided that I could stay home instead of go to church and hear the Gospel? Was it when I got a promotion at work? Was it when I got this new apartment? Was it when I moved to Lexington in the first place? Was it when I started listening to a certain podcast? Was it someone I met whose friendship I valued more than the Gospel?
When was it? The answer probably is, all of these and none of these.
I am, to be entirely honest, deeply discontent. I have a lot of things going for me, and a lot of them I believe would uphold, but this one thing has me unsettled and unsatisfied at the deepest, most foundational level.
I love the Gospel. I love to hear the story, I love to tell the story. I believe the story.
But does it give me purpose for me like it did? Does it rule every thought, every decision, every wish, and every desire? I fear the answer is no, but I want so badly for the answer to be yes! And I feel that the only thing standing in my way is myself – I need only to die more and more, to give more of myself up, to sacrifice more of my desires, to give up more of my will to Jesus.
I desperately desire for my most desperate desire to be more and more of Jesus. And I hope that’s a good place to be in.
My last note (added well after writing this) I’m convinced that one day God and I will laugh about this. I worry and I fret, but He’s sovereign. There’s a man I know I am, and a man I am now, and they’re not the same, but I believe they one day will be. More on that in the next post…