I’m just ecstatic as I write these words! Ecstatic is not an adjective I had even considered in some months! But ecstatic I am. If she would have called even three weeks ago I think I would have said “No, but thanks anyway.” As Providence would have it she called just yesterday. You see, someone called to cancel their place among 18 men who will gather together for nine days, at Gordon Conwell Seminary, as a part of the Ockenga Institute’s Spurgeon Sabbatical (in Boston, MA). Psalm 16:6 says “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” This is fast becoming yet another of my favorite verses in the Bible.
Yes, I am well aware of the fact that for some 2000 years Jesus has been working hard at preparing a place for me in glory….but He must have some more finishing work to do before He calls me to my eternal home. Jesus said in John 14: 1-2 “Do not let your hearts be troubled…for I go to prepare a place for you.” “Do not let you hearts be troubled…for I go to prepare a place for you.” The reason given in this text for why we are not to let our hearts be troubled is because Jesus is preparing a place for every one who is a child of God…and there’s nothing that you or I can do to change the timetable of when we will die.
Perhaps I need to back up and begin in the early part of 2008, when I applied for a $40,000 grant from a foundation to take (receive) a sabbatical of four months. The process of applying for this grant was tedious. We had to account for every penny and every day. The process was a good one for my church to go through as we had to demonstrate objective evidence of overwhelming congregational support. We had it.
So Karla began in earnest the planning of the nearly impossibe logistics for transporting a family of seven to Europe for five weeks. Just imagine!
The sabbatical committee was a joy to work with. We had planned to take the whole family to Europe and trace the trail of the Reformation and see some sights. There were numerous other things scheduled over this four month period that were designed to refresh me and give me a new perspective on my ministry here.
Well, on Friday October 17th, 2008 I found out that my grant had not been accepted. After putting so much effort into the application process it was a huge disappointment to receive that diminutive letter in the mail, for I knew what it contained.
Two days later on Sunday October 19th, 2008, I announced to the church, with a lump in my throat, that my application had not been accepted. I specifically remember stating something to the effect that “I think that over the course of the next year we will come to understand why this was not accepted.”
There are no accidents. Just four days later on Thursday October 23, 2008 I awakened to a bedroom filled with medical personnel after having a seizure. Tests would reveal an AVM in my brain the size of a peach. I suspected that this was merely the beginning of a story whereby God would be glorified in a massive way. And so the blog was born. And so He was. Anyone who has given birth to a blog knows that they can be massive time robbers.
Anyway, what I’m trying to get to is that I had planned on going to the Spurgeon Sabbatical but it was already full, so they put me on the waiting list. But, my grant was not accepted so I refused to let myself even think of it again…mostly.
From the website I have copied and pasted the following description of the purpose of the Spurgeon Sabbatical.
“The purpose of the Spurgeon Sabbatical for Pastors is to offer renewal for those who are called to carry the ‘weight of souls.’ The conviction that drives the Spurgeon Sabbatical is that the best way to gain new perspectives and power for the pastoral ministry is through serious study of the Scriptures within a community context of worship, prayer, discussion and fellowship. If you are interested in such a ‘counter-cultural’ pastor’s retreat, we invite you to come away this summer with a small group of pastors for an intense time of study, worship, reflection, prayer and conversation about what it means in our day and age to “exhaust our lives for Jesus.”
“The community begins and ends each day with worship. In between you will join with the other pastors to strengthen community – gathering for times around the table, times at play and times of hearty conversation. This is an excellent opportunity to be renewed and to gain new perspective on your ministry.”
Other than taking the whole family to Europe the Spurgeon Sabbatical was the thing I was looking forward to the most…and there was no way it was going to work out. But then God always has a unique way of doing things both for His glory and also for our joy.
As Karla and I have written these blogs we have consistently held these things to be true. As my friend and former pastor, John Piper, always says “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”, and something to the effect that God’s glory and our joy are not at odds with one another. I heartily agree and so it is that hardly a day passes now that I don’t consider these Biblical truths in a visceral manner.
The vascular doctor at Mayo questioned, with tears in his eyes, why God would take away the voice of a preaching pastor (I have now regained much). I conveyed to him that somehow this was going to result in more glory for God. And it has, but now I get to receive some joy!
On a follow up visit to Mayo two weeks ago this same doctor, a committed Christian I believe, said that my “case” had caused him to delve much more deeply in his devotional times on the relationship between suffering and the sovereignty of God as related to our sanctification. I don’t think he had ever given it much thought.
From last November through June 20, 2009 we have had just over 116,000 page views on this blog. I guess God has received much glory by walking us through the fires and not letting us get burned, and through the waters without drowning.
The second thing I was most looking forward to regarding my sabbatical that never materialized, was this…the Spurgeon Sabbatical. But it would not have happened unless God were in control of all things…asking me (us) to trust Him, testing me (us) with fire, disciplining me (us) [for mygood], expressing His love for me (us) in countless ways, and taking this pastor to the very precipice of eternity.
So, when I received a call Thursday morning telling me that a spot had opened up for me, I said “Yes, I believe that spot is for me but let me run it by the church chairman (an elder).” It begins Monday June 22nd. This Monday….as in two days from now! With just four day’s notice I now get to participate in what I trust will be a rich time of interacting with other pastors. Can you say “irony?” One of the on-line dictionaries defines irony as “an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.”
My good friend and fellow pastor, Randy Anderson will also be among the 18 pastors attending. Randy is the man who became the blog’s pastor, and more importantly to me, the pastor to my dear wife Karla. His powerful insights offered on this blog were penetrating mini sermons/devotionals.
I wonder why a pastor would cancel at the last minute? Even if this man is entering into some life altering event I pray that he too might prove God faithful.
All things for good. God causes all things for good. This is not some kind of a “hands off” platonic deity. This is a God who has an exceedingly high view of Himself, as well He should. All things for good. This is His story and it has become mine as well. Romans 8:28 says it and I’m sticking with it. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
It’s true. “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” Psalm 16:6.
Still in awe of this smiling Providence,