This Sunday July 21st, 2013, will mark my last Sunday in the pulpit as the pastor of Crossroad Evangelical Free Church in Earlham, Iowa. After 17 years and 8 months as the pastor I can only imagine what it will feel like not to serve in this capacity any longer. Our family has invested many years of our lives in this community and we have grown to love deeply both the Crossroad Church family and the Earlham family. Three of our five children were born while we lived here on the corner of 3rd and Maple on the northeast corner of the park. Benj was just a toddler when we moved here and Luke a plucky 4 year old.
I do not know what is next for me but Karla and I are very much looking forward to a season of time out of the rigors and pressures of full time ministry. Ministry takes a toll. Yes it does. All who have given themselves to this work understand what I mean. It is not just the pastor for whom this weight is felt.
Ministry also has its glorious rewards in marriages helped, seeing people grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus over the years, watching and observing people being shaped and helped by the systematic preaching of the Word of God, being with people at their extremes: the agony of deaths (there is no such thing as a good death) as well as the ecstasies of weddings and other joyous occasions.
Over these 17 plus years I figured out that I have spent roughly 17,000 hours in prayerful study and reflection in preparing sermons (which would total about 15,000 pages double spaced) as I sought to understand what the living Spirit of God would have to say to this group of Christ followers on any given Sunday. I always aimed to keep my nose firmly in the biblical text and have rejoiced at the applications that the Spirit of God has made in the hearts of folks that I never could have dreamed up in a million years.
I echo the words of my old pastor and friend John Piper in his book The Supremacy of God in Preaching, “I continually thank God that he has never left me on a Sunday morning without a word to speak and a zeal to speak it for his glory. Oh, I have my moods. My family of four sons and a steady wife is not without its pains and tears. Criticism can stab to the quick, and discouragement can go so deep as to leave this preacher numb. But it is a gift of measureless, sovereign grace. that beyond all desert and all inadequacy, God has opened his Word to me and given me a heart to savor it and send it forth week after week.” A hearty amen to all of the above!
I am quite sure that God, in his mercy, conceals the larger impact and effects of our ministries so as to keep his servants humble and dependent on him…content even.
Jeremiah Burroughs was a committed Christian of the Puritan stripe who lived to be just 47 years old. He wrote a little book that was first published in 1640 called “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.” (This will also be the title of my sermon this Sunday from Philippians 4:10-23). In this little gem he wrote that “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” He then spends the following 200 pages fleshing it out. This is something I aspire to as well. Contentment.
In this interim season I am planning to write. I have always had a desire to express myself in words like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 12:18 who “sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.” I have done so each week for more than17 years, but I have a couple of specific writing projects I would like to give myself to: First, Karla and I are still committed to writing a book of our incredible adventures of four and a half years ago as I had brain surgery and the Providential twists and turns along the way…that continue still.
Second, I also have about 100 articles that I have written over the past 13 years for a statewide newsletter for homeschool families….fathers in particular, called Patros Logos (a father’s words) that I would be interested in editing and putting in book form. Hey, even if I self publish it still counts…I guess?
This blog was begun in November, 2008 for the purpose of allowing you all to walk through the unknown with us. I knew about this thing in my brain from October23rd, but didn’t have it removed until February,2009. Thus began a harrowing journey through the all-too-real life and death struggle that was ours to share for 46 days at Mayo Clinic…and every single day since. It was a very candid look into my own heart, fears, faith, and then Karla took over the blog when I was out of commission.
But here we are now, four-and-a-half years out and still feeling the impact of those harrowing days, our minds still reverting back…mine many times every waking hour, and finding our present situation not unrelated to the past. The apostle Paul said it well when he cried out in spontaneous praise to God in Romans 11:23-25 “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”