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I wake up early on Sunday mornings. Usually around 4:00, 4:30 I get up, get a cup of tea, and sit down with the sermon for that day. I spend some time going over it in my mind. Checking notes. Adding comments. I’ll look over the Bible lesson, too. If I have time I’ll turn on the TV and watch some other preachers. We don’t have cable, so this is about the only day I find them on.

I’m troubled by what I often hear. There are some I can listen to longer than others, but there is a good bit that I don’t find biblical. Sure, they quote Scripture in their sermons, but they’re not reading it the way I’m reading it. They’re finding things there that don’t match my understanding or my experience.

In his book, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson puts it this way:

Well-meaning people tell us that the Christian gospel will put us in charge of life, will bring us happiness and bounty. So we go out and buy a Bible. We adapt, edit, sift, summarize. We then use whatever seems useful and apply it in our circumstances however we see fit. We take charge of the Christian gospel, using it as a toolbox to repair our lives, or as a guidebook for getting what we want, or as an inspirational handbook to enliven a dull day. But we aren’t smart enough to do that; nor can we be trusted to do that. The Holy Spirit is writing us into the revelation, the story of salvation. We find ourselves in the story as followers of Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow him and we obey–or we do not. This is an immense world of God’s salvation that we are entering; we don’t know enough to use or apply anything. Our task is to obey–believingly, trustingly obey. Simply obey in a ‘long obedience.’

Not all of life is ‘fixed’ by becoming a Christian. In fact, some of it is a good deal harder. That “love your enemies” part sometimes gives me fits. And yet, we are called to obedience. We go where we’re sent. We do what we’re told. We follow the one who lived life to the fullest and died on a cross.

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2011 was a really hard year. Almost one year ago this week I was offered a severance package and invited to leave the congregation where I currently minister. We have been here seven years. This is the first indication I had that anyone was dissatisfied. I was shocked.

I politely declined the offer and kept going. I worked on some areas of ministry the leadership felt were deficient and kept going. We looked into other ministry opportunities, but kept going. We’ve had some leadership changes and we’ve kept going. 

We felt that God had called us to Greenville and had not yet indicated that it was time to leave. My wife and I have usually known when God was signaling us to move on. That time hadn’t arrived yet. I just didn’t know if the eldership here would come to the same conclusion.

I was encouraged by this quote from Henri Nouwen,

Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, “How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?” There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.

 
Much of the turmoil of the past year has now passed. I am more secure and confident in my ministry. I shouldn’t have been surprised. God has always been faithful in the past. God has always provided for our needs. It’s just so hard to remember that in the midst of crisis. 
 
Somehow, God has given me the gift of tenacity. This is not the first time ministry has been difficult. I hold on. When others would give up, I hold on. When others would give in, I hold on. I believe that’s a valuable gift in the ministry. We need thick skin. We need to worry more about what God thinks of us than others. We need to trust in God more than we trust in ourselves or others. God is faithful.