On the night that we handed over the leadership of London Road Church to Ed and Heidi Strong, Ed gave me a gift that has sat on my study desk ever since.It was a vintage spirit level; the kind brick layers use to make sure that bricks are being laid, well, level, I guess! It's old, worn and wooden,but beautifully oiled and cared for, like all of Ed's wooden antiques. It has the little bubble of mercury in the middle that bounces and glides around its metal casing until it comes to rest in what should be, dead center. I guess its called a spirit level because they used to use alcohol instead of mercury. It looks like its laid a brick or two in its time. Probably early 20th century.
He handed it to me on that unforgettable evening, with the words, "keep your head in all situations." He was quoting from Paul's parting words in his 2nd letter to Timothy. "They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."(2 Tim 4:5) He had in mind our move to Los Angeles, California, which we made a few weeks after we left the community we had come to love so dearly.
I've thanked God many times for the gift that would remind me of those words, as I've sat at my desk. It has summarized what has been the most unfamiliar season of our ministry life; bewildering and fascinating all at the same time.So many ideas and people that we assumed were constant, are no longer a part of our lives. The whirl-wind of a new culture discovered, our changing relationship with a church group that has absorbed the last 15 years of our lives, a nation reeling from economic recession,and a church beset by an internal law-suit. So little has not changed. And the whirl-wind of change became an emotional and visionary dust-storm.
Here in the arid, rugged beauty of Palm Desert, where we have retreated for a few days as a family, I have reflected on the past almost three years. The whirlwind that became a dust-storm has largely subsided, by God's grace. Emotion, exhaustion, and confusion have settled into a clear, tangible relief and a good glimpse of great things to come. Having come through the last two years' lawsuit,and having crossed over to our new building, we are beginning to enjoy growing favor as a church in the city where God has planted us. Although the financial storm is not yet over, we find ourselves dreaming again.
I am not just dreaming though.I am asking questions. Of myself and of this trial.
"Did I pass this trial?" "Did I learn what God wanted me to learn?" "Did I keep my head in this situation?""Did I continue steadfastly in the duties of my ministry in the midst of it." To be honest, I am not sure. I hope so. I am a man in process, but so grateful for some gold nuggets of wisdom that blew in with the whirlwind. Here are few.
Firstly, you cannot go through a season like this without a good team and a strong leader. We had that, although the team did begin to show signs of strain towards the end. The season does take its toll on family, who carry what you are carrying vicariously.It remains for you to intentionally restore family as a place of peace.
Secondly, a theology of God's Sovereignty is absolutely crucial for surviving a season of false-accusation, where God's hand is not yet clearly evident. The Scriptures, especially the Psalms become more real and a source of great stability and clarity.
Thirdly,the gospel is practically worked out in grace extended to those who have falsely accused, or misunderstood you. The battle against bitterness is sometimes protracted,and fought at the foot of the cross.
Fourthly, the temptation towards self-pity and self-justification is great. I have found that it is only dealt with in God's presence, and with God's future promises. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. In all this, the Holy Spirit quickens us in our mortality. The precious Holy Spirit, the Parakletos, the Counselor, the One who comes alongside, ultimately keeps us level.