Feb 18, 2012

God Had Other Plans for Me, Part 2

In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, I was with the exiles at the Chebar River when the heavens opened and I saw visions of God. (It happened on the fifth day of the month, in the fifth year after King Jehoiachin’s deportation. The LORD’s word burst in on the priest Ezekiel, Buzi’s son, in the land of Babylon at the Chebar River. There the LORD’s power overcame him.) (CEB)

In yesterday’s reflection, I shared with you how my own calling mirrors, in ways, that of Ezekiel. Though he was expecting to be a priest, God had other plans, calling him to a prophetic ministry. Similarly, although I thought that I would be a professor of New Testament, God led me to use my academic gifts as a teaching pastor in a church. My sixteen years as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church–a role I had never expected to fulfill–were some of the most rewarding years of my life.

For most of my tenure at Irvine Pres, I thought I’d remain as pastor of that church until I retired. I loved the people there. I felt fulfilled as a preacher and teacher. I knew God was using my gifts in that context. My family was greatly loved by the congregation and had ample opportunities to minister in and through the church. I was very settled, or so I thought.

Yet, almost exactly five years ago to this day, I began to wonder if my expectations for my ministry were in line with God’s plans. Folks from Laity Lodge had contacted me to ask if I would consider filling the vacant position of Executive Director. Initially, I rejected their query without much thought. Yet, when I was speaking at the Lodge five years ago, Dave Williamson, the director, asked once again if I was interested in joining their staff. I told him that I couldn’t imagine leaving my church and moving my family from California, but that I sensed I needed to be open to God’s guidance in a new way.

Soon, I found myself having previously unexpected conversations with people in Texas. They talked about having me join the H.E. Butt Foundation, at first by helping to direct Laity Lodge and by growing into a wider role of theological leadership for the whole organization. The more we talked, the more I felt drawn to join what we now call Foundations for Laity Renewal. I loved the people of the organization and their vision. I was impressed by the leaders under whom I would serve. I felt excited about the opportunities for me to grow in my gifts. Yes, I was worried about how a move to Texas might impact my family. But, in the end, I was able to trust God with this.

There was only one problem with leaving parish ministry to join Foundations for Laity Renewal...a big problem, at that. There was no obvious way for me to exercise my gifts of teaching and preaching, except through occasional speaking at Laity Lodge or guest preaching in churches. The core of what I felt God had called me to do seemed to be missing from my new job description. Nevertheless, it eventually seemed clear to my wife and me, and to the leaders of FLR, that God wanted us in Texas. I had to trust him with the question of how I might use my teaching gifts in my new role.

Two months into my tenure with FLR, my colleague, Dan Roloff, approached me with an idea. “We’ve been publishing Daily Reflections on our website and emailing them out to subscribers for the past five years. Eugene Peterson has graciously allowed us to use material he wrote. But we’re coming to the end of his reflections. I’m wondering if you would be interested in doing a few of these while we figure out what to do next.” I told Dan that I was flattered and that I’d like to give it a try. So, beginning on January 1, 2008, I began writing the Daily Reflections.

A few weeks into this new effort, it occurred to me that this was very much like teaching and preaching in a church. No, I wasn’t speaking to people face-to-face. But, through digital media, I was able to “speak” to several thousand people each day. Many of them began to write me, thanking me for my reflections and sharing some of their questions and concerns. It was as if I had a new congregation to shepherd. It even occurred to me that the amount of time I invested each week in writing the reflections was just about the same as what I had put into my preaching preparation each week. Though the mode of communication was different, in writing the reflections, I was doing something quite similar to what I had done as a preacher: studying Scripture, sharing my insights with people, making connections to daily life, praying on the basis of biblical truth, all with the intent of helping people grow deeper in their relationship with God so that they might live each day as disciples of Jesus.

Now, more than four years and a thousand plus reflections later, I marvel at God’s goodness to me. I’m not the professor I once thought I would be. I’m not the parish pastor I once believed I would be. But I am using my training and gifts to help my “congregation”–including you–have an encounter with the living God through his Word. How thankful I am for God’s faithfulness...and for his surprises.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you think God might be directing you to something unexpected in your life? What might keep you from responding to God’s call? What would help you to step forward into something new?

PRAYER: Gracious God, as I think about how you called me to Foundations for Laity Renewal, and how you provided an opportunity for me to use my gifts, I wonder at your goodness. I am filled with gratitude. Thank you.

I pray for those in my email “congregation,” that they might be open to the new things God wants to do in their life. Help them to attend to the still, small voice of your Spirit. Give them the ability to trust you in the face of uncertainty. Use them for your kingdom's purpose. Bless them with the joy of following you no matter where you lead. Amen.

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