Looking Back While Looking Ahead

At this time of year, a switch flips in our hearts causing us take time to reflect back on all the events of the past twelve months. This year, I think I have been, and will be, spending even more time than usual pondering all that 2017 held.  Well, more like the last 18 months, because everything we went through in 2017 was brought on by the events of mid-2016.  And what a long, strange trip it has been.

While there are many things I could write on, as I look back here at the beginning of December, these things stick out most:

The blessing of a spouse – Trying to put words on the page to adequately describe how amazing Amanda has been on this journey would be impossible. She has stood by me, prayed with me, prayed FOR me, sought the Lord’s will, encouraged me when I faltered, and was willing to set her own desires aside for what God was calling us to. Seeing her grow in love for Jesus as the days went by, in the midst of some really hard things, has been such a joy to me. Babe, He has indeed done a new thing, in us both!

The blessing of time –  No matter how much time you have, it’s never enough.  I was without a regular job for 11 months, and it flew by like a finger snap.  While we were able to do a lot of things as a family, there were more things left undone than I’d care to admit.  Make the most of the days you have, whatever they may hold.  They’ll pass you by all too quickly.

The blessing of generosity – We were amazed by the generosity of others time and time again this year.  My sister and her husband opening their home to us, completely without time limit or caveat…well, I could never say enough about that.  Their willingness to come alongside us and give us the space to seek the Lord’s will, to simply wait on Him, was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.  Others gave their ear, their money, their time to encourage and help us out, with little if anything promised in return.  Grateful doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The blessing of friends –  The band Cinderella had a hit in the 80’s with the title “Don’t Know What You Got ’til It’s Gone”, and that could have been one of my theme songs this year.  While I always knew I was blessed to have some amazing friends, I know I didn’t fully appreciate that until I could no longer see them each week.  Whether scarfing down tacos, getting deep over coffee, serving together at church, or simply having our families hang together for a meal, the friend’s we left behind in NC are greatly missed.  Those deep friendships take time, they take investment on the part of both parties, and they can never be replaced.  While we are so thankful for the new friendships that are in bloom here, we will never forget those friends back home.

The blessing of having great Tex-Mex anytime you want it – I’m a simple man, and one of my greatest pleasures in life is good Mexican food.  I’m thankful God moved us to a state that has incredible Tex-Mex on nearly every corner.  Also thankful that I have a physical job to offset the effects of said Tex-Mex.  To all my Taco-Tuesday brothers, y’all need to do a road trip.

The blessing of our church –  Though every single aspect of our life was uprooted and unclear for most of this year, we are so very thankful that the one thing that was clear from the get-go:  where we were going to go to church.  That’s the ONLY thing we knew!  And week after week, the Holy Spirit has been speaking to us, convicting us, healing us.  From coffee with a pastor, text messages, community group, emails and the service on Sunday, God has used Frontline in a major way in our lives.  So, so grateful.

And last, but most assuredly not least….

The blessing of brokenness – I charged into 2017 convinced that I was going to be back in ministry quickly.  I just knew it was coming, and I pronounced myself ready to tackle the next task.  Little did I know that this year was going to be a “Sabbath” year of rest physically, with the bulk of the work done of a spiritual kind.  This year, the Lord has been working overtime on my own heart and soul.  Undone is probably the best way to describe it, as the sinfulness and fleshy-ness of my own heart was shown to me.  But in this brokenness, as all the dead wood in my heart began to get cleared away, the Gospel of Jesus began to find fresh soil to take root in.

I don’t have the years of ministry that many others have had, but I know a few things from my time as a pastor.  One of the things that I’d wager every pastor struggles with, but few feel they have the ability to acknowledge, is that we don’t have it all together.  It’s subtle, but it’s there, and it’s powerful.  The feeling/belief/conviction that we have to be stronger than you, that we have to be perfect, that we have to have all the answers, that we have to fix every situation, that we…that we…there is a burden there that can crush a man’s soul.

It nearly crushed mine.  And I was just a worship pastor.

The result of it is we seldom let others in, we seldom confess our sins for fear that it disqualifies us and that we have to “protect the sheep”, forgetting all along that the only One who is perfect and without sin is Jesus, forgetting that the sheep are His and not ours, and the fact that pastors are sheep, too.  We don’t mean to do this, mind you, but it happens.  We are just as broken as you are, but we don’t feel like we can admit it.

So the result is we fall into a works-based righteousness, we diminish the Gospel in our lives, if not our words, and we make ministry an idol from which we get our identity.  Ministry for Jesus becomes the defining aspect of our lives instead of Jesus alone.

This hurts to write, but it’s the truth.  And it took me several months of being out of ministry to realize it had happened to me.  In my heart, my identity was wrapped up in what I did for Jesus, not what He did for me.  I served at church a lot.  We had multiple weekend services, weeknight bible studies, small groups, etc.  I led worship just about every day…and I know now that I was missing Jesus in the midst of it all.  How is that possible, you might ask.  Trust me, it happens.  More than you realize.  In telling others of their need for Jesus it’s easy to forget you need Him, too.

So the hardest part of all this journey is also the sweetest part:  the soul-work the Holy Spirit has been doing on Amanda and I.  Do you know how crazy it is to realize that every bit of this was about Jesus drawing us nearer to Him, and that He had to use a complete revamping of our lives in every way in order to get us to that point?  That’s humbling, because I know my own hard heart is a big part of that, but also so incredibly encouraging.  How is this encouraging?  Well, because the God who left the glory of heaven to be born as a baby in a smelly barn grew into a man, and gave His life as a ransom for our sins…this same Jesus will spare nothing in reaching our cold, hard hearts.  He still comes for us.  He still seeks us, pursues us, draws us.  He will spare nothing to reach us.

As a good friend of mine recently reminded me, we are all mid-story, wherever we are in life.  God’s not done (though the end has been written, and it’s glorious!), and He’s still working.  I think Amanda and I were expecting the “next thing” to be “THE thing”, when in fact, it’s just another part on the journey, another page in the chapter.  He’s not finished with us, or with you.  Let Him peel back the stuff of life that’s keeping you from Him, painful as it may be.  Trust Him that in the letting go, you’ll truly find what you need so deeply….Jesus.

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