The end of the year is an ideal time to pause, take stock and reflect. As I reflect back over this year there is much to be grateful for and there are some lessons being learned.
This has been a year to discover God’s provision in a new measure. 2018 was the first full year that I wasn’t a pastor. In February of 2017 I was wrestling with God because I had to decide if I was going to leave the pastorate and accept a job as a full time professor at Alliance Theological Seminary (ATS). Part of my wrestling was over finances; It was a massive pay cut and I had three kids and a wife in college (Jen was finishing her masters). Plus NY had a much higher cost of living – nearly $20,000 per year. From a financial perspective and as a career move, this decision made no sense at all. But as I prayed about it, there was a clear sense that God was in it. I heard the Lord whisper to me that I would never have to worry about my finances. Of course, I would have liked for him to explain to me how he planned on providing all we needed, but he wasn’t giving details. That is often not God’s way; That’s why they call it faith. I just received his word that he would provide and I could trust him. So, I surrendered and then took the job at ATS. I have not had a financial fear since I surrendered and 2018 was our first full year under the new economic reality and we have never had a single financial concern or struggle. He has provided above and beyond.
God delivered. So much to be grateful for. Why is it that even though the Lord has been faithful in our past, we struggle to surrender sometimes in our present? I wish that were not true of me still, but sadly it is sometimes.
One of the reasons why I felt God pulling me toward ATS was because it was in alignment with my calling. I have always operated on two platforms, or two aspects of my calling. First, I was a local church pastor. For most of my life that was my primary calling and I poured my heart and soul into South Shore Community Church. But I also was involved in training and equipping pastors and church leaders. I had been working as an adjunct professor at ATS for over 15 years before I came full time in September of 2017. I was speaking at pastors conferences and other leadership events. But along the way, my secondary calling had become my primary calling. I could tell the calling to focus on church leaders had won out in the heart of God and my heart; I knew God was calling me to leave the local church and go full time into my primary calling of working with church leaders. This became clear to me in May of 2015. It was just a matter of waiting for God’s time. And in 2017, it once again became clear to me that God’s time had come. So in September of 2017 I became a full time professor and author and conference speaker. As a result, this past year, in 2018, I have had the pleasure of speaking to over 10,000 pastors around the globe. It has been a delight.
I am having more fun, more fulfillment and more fruit in ministry than ever before. So grateful. I feel like I am doing what I was born to do.
When I was 24 years old, one day the Lord spoke to me in my time alone with him. He laid my life out before me. He said you will take a job as an assistant pastor and plant a church out of that congregation; you will teach at seminary, write books and teach leaders internationally. I am literally living the dream or the vision of the future that God have me. At that time, I told the Lord I would do whatever he asked me to do, but I would never open my own doors to advance my own cause, I would wait for him to open doors and follow. He opened every door just as he said. But the path to get there looked nothing like I would have imagined. It was a lot more difficult and painful than I could have anticipated.
Nobody plans in pain; nobody achieves their destiny without it. Pain is always part of God’s plan to fulfill his purpose for our lives. Yet, sadly, we often resist the very thing we need to get to the very place both God and we long to go. Why? Why do we resist God’s shaping hand so much? Why do we struggle to trust the God of the cross, the suffering servant?
I wish I were more meek, more humble, so that I was quicker to accept God’s plans more easily and the path of pain, so necessary for my development, without a fight. I have mentioned Fenelon a lot over the years, particularly his book Let Go. The reason I have read Fenelon’s Book, Let Go, more than any other book except the Bible is because no one who has ever written understands death to self as the path to freedom and life abundant like Fenelon. No one has ever helped me more to die to self, to humble myself, to surrender, like Fenelon has.
There is no freedom without surrender. There is no peace without yielding to God. There is no life abundant without death to self. There is no fullness without self-emptying. There is no victory without submission to the King. I wish I were quicker to die to self, quicker to surrender, quicker to trust God’s ways. I wish it were less of a struggle to come to these restful places of victory. But nonetheless, I am grateful the One whose blood purged my soul is so patient with me. I am grateful for every surrendered moment life has produced through pain; I am grateful for every victory forged in the furnace of trials; I am grateful for every battle won for the death of self and for the life of Christ that has emerged. May the lessons of the past years be the foundation upon which we build our life in Christ in 2019! May the pain redeemed in 2018, become the harvest reaped in 2019. And may the pain embraced in 2019, become the path to the fulfillment of God’s purposes in us. God’s best to you in this new year!