A few years ago, friends of ours asked us to meet them at a local pizza place. We had been partnering with them in ministry for a few years prior to this dinner, and we knew that it was kind of a heavy moment because when it is, you can’t really hide it, you know?
So we sit down to eat and they let us know that they are moving out of town and that they finally feel like God is sending them elsewhere. I remember this tension that was felt and trying to diffuse it. I remember encouraging them that there is nothing wrong with asking God if it is time to be done, time to move on, time for a new season, time for a new obedience.
There was something in them that felt a little guilty, a little like they were abandoning us. The truth is that they weren’t. The truth is that they were saying yes to God. This loyalty to Christ and his call is the only loyalty that matters. Everything else is a gift. It is good for its time. But things come to an end. And ends aren’t bad. There is grief for sure, but saying yes to God is always good.
If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. –GAL 1:10b
Over my ten years of vocational ministry at OroNaz, there have been many times that I have asked this question, this “Should I stay or should I go?” question. And every single time there has been a clear check in my spirit that I should stay. It’s like God was saying, “Thanks for asking, but now is not the time.” Even through the difficult days. Especially when it would have been easier to leave. God has been faithful to make his call clear on my life to stay in the place where he has sent me, doing the work he has gifted me to do.
Recently, over the last few weeks, there was a shift in my spirit. As I would ask God about what He wants me to do, I would always listen for the word stay. For the first time in over a decade, something shifted in my heart. And I knew that I needed to start listening for other words.
The season of stay was coming to an end.
Without yet hearing another word, but knowing that this shift was happening in me, there has been a lot of grief, though I didn’t recognize that was what it was as it was happening.
The stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
These stages don’t always come in that order. They come in waves. They hit you from all sides, depression and anger followed by denial and bargaining, acceptance for a bit and then back into denial and depression. It tosses you around. It has tossed me around.
I have found myself bouncing between many of these things in the past month, and it is very unsettling. Especially because there are so many people, so many of you that I have loved pastoring vocationally, and this has caused so much grief tied up in this shift that I know that God is doing in my heart.
(I know that you don’t need me, you need Jesus, and Jesus is better than any pastor could ever be, but I hope you know what I mean.)
I think the toughest part of all of this has been the season in which God started to shift me. There have been plenty of other times where it would have been easier to leave my ministry position. But over the last few weeks, as our sister community was devastated by one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit an American community, everything in me wants to stay. Everything in me wants to dig in and double down from within this church home.
But God has been doing a different thing in me. I know that some of my actions and conversations and demeanor and attitudes have been misinterpreted by those that have been around me over these past few weeks. Grief has led me all over the map. All I can do is say that I’m sorry and ask for your forgiveness. I have misinterpreted my own actions and intentions as the waves of grief have come out in anger and depression, frustration and hopelessness, denial and sadness–all at a time where everyone else is consumed with this monumental tragedy. It has been very disorienting
Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. –Unknown
Which brings me to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Toward the end of a very long day (as they always tend to be) of working in the church that had been set up as a Red Cross Evacuation Shelter–meeting needs, praying with people, solving challenges, and desperately needing to sit down, I took about a 45 minute break in my office.
As I had been praying and bargaining and working through whatever tough things were raging in my heart that day, I committed to God that I would journal it out. Journaling my prayers is where I experience God’s hand and guidance in my life the most. When I got back to my office, I couldn’t find my journal. I texted my wife to see if she had seen it at home. She hadn’t. I looked some more. It wasn’t under the piles. It wasn’t in the drawers. No matter how many times I checked my bag, it still wasn’t in there. I couldn’t find it.
So I settled for typing it out. I think it was the first moment in my grief that I allowed myself to really accept what God was saying to me beyond the fact that I knew that I was going to be listening for another word.
As I started to type, a lot of stuff came out–small phrases, verse snippets, words, observations, hopes, dreams, memories, all kinds of stuff.
And then there was this moment.
I had typed out the word tentmaking. This is a long-standing strand in my life as a Jesus follower. It has always been there, and as I sat staring at the screen, cursor blinking, begging for more keystrokes, I started to lean into this word–tentmaker, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember exactly where in Acts it refers to Paul as a tentmaker. I could tell that God wanted me to read about it, but I couldn’t remember which passage. So I googled it.
Turns out that it’s Acts 18.
I reach over and grab my preaching Bible. It’s the one that my parents gave me when I accepted my first assignment as a pastor. I crease the book, gripped in one hand, thumb over the open end, flipping toward the New Testament and in this moment, before I can even get the pages to pull apart, still squeezed in my grip, I lose it. The tiny wind that came from flipping those pages gave way to The Holy Spirit, present, on me, in an instant, and I know that this is a holy moment. I’m weeping. Short of breath. And I sit in the moment and don’t open the pages and I’m still and I know that He is God.
And it settles me.
And I lean in.
I open the pages and I read it, silently, alone in my office, and very much not alone.
Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying… that Jesus was the Messiah. –Acts 18:2b-5
It’s weird. I’ve been in Oroville for fourteen years. I have now lived in this community longer than I lived in the hometown where I grew up. I never would have picked this town.
God did. I know God did. I know that God sent us here.
I had no idea what He would do in my life or how much he would break my heart for this city, but here we are, rooted and invested and grafted in. In many ways Oroville is our surrogate hometown.
Going back over the internal difficulty of this shift in me, I have come to realize what most of us experience in following Jesus from time to time. We want to hear his voice. We want to be obedient. But there is some disbelief that is mixed in with the belief. Like the father in Mark 9 that is pleading with Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
I think I was scared. Even though I wasn’t sure what God was saying, the fact that I was listening for a new word was scary. You’ve probably done it too, where you know that God wants to speak to you, but you’re suddenly afraid of what He will say.
Honestly, I was afraid that the word would be go.
Go is such an appropriate counterpart to the word stay.
God has enlarged our hearts for this place, for people here, for the systemic plights, for breaking the longterm injustices, for carrying heaven in this town.
My mind would assault me – If he says go, then what was this? What was all of this? Why did we invest so much? Why did we open our hearts? Why did we put down roots? If he’s going to tell us to go, what was all of the perseverance for?
But see, I got ahead of God, trying to work it all out in my head, afraid to really lean in and listen.
God didn’t say go.
God said that he was going to speak a new word. I didn’t need to worry about the word. I needed to open my ears.
God is good. God’s always working even when I can’t see it. God is taking care of me and doing a good work in me and his story that he is writing in me is better than any arc I could ever come up with.
All that I needed to do was to lean in and listen, surrender (like always) and all I will need to use is the same obedience that I have learned over the years, one step at a time. Listen. Obey. Repeat.
God wants me to be a tentmaker.
This was the word that he was speaking over my life. I don’t know anything about making tents. But God has given me some other skills, specifically in technology, design, marketing and communications. And as my heart and mind started to explore the tentmaking path that God was laying before me, using the skills that he has put in me to do some work while at the same time devoting myself to preaching and telling people that Jesus is the savior of mankind, the King of heaven and earth, I started to see all kinds of threads pull together in ways that I have not known what to do with for so many years. There are so many loose threads that seem to be linking up for this new season.
I still have waves of grief, but they are mixed now with waves of excitement. For whatever reason, the modern church hasn’t made a ton of room for people that operate in a Paul model, ministering, supporting, encouraging, preaching, AND not working within the institution of the church.
But this is where God is calling me for this next season.
I don’t know how long this will go, but hopefully when God starts to shift my heart to look for a new word in the future, I will trust him and lean in and remember that He is good.
I recently sat under the teaching of the Reverend Doctor Glenn Packiam. He spoke about Jesus calling Peter. This happens twice. Once as his disciple and then again as he recommissions Peter following the denial.
Glenn shared some insights and language that are so consistent with what God has been doing in my life.
When Jesus first calls Peter, he calls him to follow him and promises to make him a fisher of men. The call is to follow Jesus, but the promise is for a purpose. This is a very persuasive method to get people going, cast a vision and be the guide that will get them where we are going, together.
Peter’s second call wasn’t to a purpose. It wasn’t to a guide that could give him something or get him somewhere or make meaning or significance out of his life. Jesus’ call to Peter starts with three identical questions: “Do you love me?” Jesus doesn’t ask Peter if he loves the church or the people, the sheep or the work, Jesus asks if Peter loves Jesus. The second call strips away all of the incentives that we humans need to first step out in faith to follow Jesus, and it simply calls Peter to Jesus, the loving presence of the living Jesus.
This is the shift in me. Jesus is my everything. I’m here for Jesus. I’m showing up for Jesus. It’s always, only Jesus.
And all I have in my actions is obedience to his voice in my life.
We really don’t know what this next season is going to look like, but we know that Oroville is home. This is where we are going to build a life for now, working as I can find work and lifting up the name of Jesus at every available turn.
And we are very excited to see what in the world this life turns into as we follow God in this new adventure.