1st Semester Reflections: Change, Calling, & Contentment
After the first 4 months of my Church Plating Residency with the Austin Stone, I've been charged with the task of writing a reflection. When I look back, 3 works come to mind: change, calling, and contentment. They may not alliterate, but at least they all start with "C."
This semester brought a host of transition to my family and I as we moved from our studio in Upper East Side, Manhattan to a 2 bedroom in Austin, TX. Here are a few:
- New adult things: drivers licenses, health insurance
- New transportation: 2 cars
- New apartment - traded in character and location for size
- New lifestyle - car/suburban, not pedestrianized/city
- New rhythms - Meliss left full time work to be a stay at home mom
- New community: church, friends
- New ministry
- New culture: city/state/church
- New budget
- New weather - no more snow, lots more heat
- New toddler developments - talking, running, tantrums
- New baby - (in March, but pregnancy brings its own changes each week)
The older you get, the more difficult change can become. We anticipated this transition being arduous, and now that we're in the thick of it, we can say that we anticipated correctly. However, there have been many sweet things that have come with the change, including Melissa's time with our son, Roman, my growth in theological education and ministry experience, and the chance to start dreaming of what's next.
This semester, I have learned a ton. Whether through books, conversations, conferences, or absorbing as much as I can by simply being where I am, God has continued to bring me to a greater knowledge of his Word, his church, and myself. My convictions of ecclesiology (study of the church) are becoming clearer - be it core values, philosophies, methodologies, etc. If I were to plant a church, this semester has helped me navigate questions such as: What is the structure? the polity? the culture? what does group formation look like? church membership and discipline? statement of faith? what are our doctrinal distinctives? So many questions that rarely, if ever, crossed my mind 5 years ago.
I also sense a clearer confirmation in my calling to be a part of a church plant, however I've become more open handed as to what role I play in that endeavor. I want to help lead a new, young, growing church - whether I'm the lead guy or not, I know God has gifted me to help launch and build a biblically sound, gospel-driven, Word-centered, Spirit-empowered, Christ-exalting church somewhere in this world. And by God's grace, that church will plant more churches over and over again.
The last thing that comes to mind regarding this semester is the idea of contentment. Even as I write this, my family is in the hotbed of sickness, from stomach bugs to fevers to sinus infections. It's been a grueling holiday season. So where does our contentment come from? In the midst of all the change, on the lonely and hard days, it's easy to look back to what we had in NYC or to look forward to what could be at the conclusion of this residency. No doubt, this semester has been tough on me and my family, though I do not question for a moment God's sovereignty in it all. I sense he's driving us further and further into finding contentment in him, and not in any circumstance or environment. We all have our list of "if only's" - if only I had "this" - then things would be better (time, money, friends, career, etc). Yet, time and time again, these things fail to satisfy for very long.
In Paul's letter to the Philippians, after boasting in his worldly resume, he says, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:7-8)
According to Paul, there is something of far greater value in knowing Christ that completely outshines anything in this world. This leads him to say later in his letter: "for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13)
He is not tempted to place his hope in abundance nor be anxious about what he lacks. In Christ, he has all he needs.
Is this true of us? Is this true of you? What is it about "knowing Christ" that is of such surpassing worth? How does Christ strengthen us in every circumstance? As we look to the cross, we see a perfect, innocent man dying for our sake, that we may have new life in an eternal relationship with the God who created us to know him and love him. Without Christ, we remain separated, lost. With Christ, we are brought home, made new, and empowered to "fight the good fight of faith" in all situations. He is our true contentment because he is the most beautiful, majestic, glorious being in the universe who puts his insane love for us on display through his sacrifice. Everything on this earth fades, but Christ will never fade, and neither will our worship of him. To God be the glory.