On Saturdays, I’m writing my thoughts that have rambled in my brain since hearing the sermon at my church. Today’s entry was inspired by Andy McQuitty’s sermon given at Irving Bible Church as we’re in week 2 of a 4-week series in Jonah. This sermon is titled “The Mother of All Pits.”
Let’s just say that my behavior didn’t line up with my mouth.
I told God, “wherever you want me to go, whatever you want me to do” during my job search nearly two years ago. I told friends that I was open to anything God would have me do. I read the books you’re supposed to read when you’re looking for the next job. I talked to all sorts of people and got the right sort of advice you’re supposed to get when you look for a job. I hit all the web sites you’re supposed to hit to find the right job.
The problem is that I was kinda selective about the words “wherever” and “whatever.” I kinda picked what I wanted and selectively chose the advice I wanted to listen to and ignored the chapters in books that didn’t fit my ideal and the web sites let me anonymously edit choices that didn’t suit me.
Ames, Iowa? Not even thinking about the Heartland.
High School Pastor gig? Um, I think I’m a little past working underneath somebody with 3 years’ experience.
Raising support? Been there, done that.
Counseling? I don’t think going back to school for a couple of years is what I wanna do right now.
Alaska? Too far from family right now and there’s a lot of stuff coming up in the next year we might want to be a little closer for.
But the opportunity to hop a plane to Seattle and hang out with some borderline anarchist church planters and think through ministry in an urban setting and pay about $1,000 to “invest in myself?” Done.
San Francisco? Portland? Baltimore? Sacramento? Seattle? Charlotte? Resume SENT.
Next Generation Pastor? With three people working underneath my umbrella? Let’s see what God’s up to.
Hawaii? Well, we can get back in 10 hours if the girls need us.
I started attending a church in Deep Ellum in Dallas…a downtown eclectic community where many artists and musicians and entrepreneurs choose to live.
Because I was pretty set on the idea that I was going to use that opportunity to do whatever I wanted to do. And I wanted to be a part of an eclectic downtown community of Christ-followers. To do church in an environment that celebrates diversity. To live in a loft downtown and live the rhythms of that life. To do something completely different. It would be incredible, right?
Which is why I really related to what Pastor Andy said about why Jonah ran toward Tarshish rather than to the place God wanted him to go:
[Jonah] said, ‘I’m not going to Ninevah, I’m going to Tarshish.’ Why did he go to Tarshish? Because he didn’t want to do what God wanted him to do but he did want to do what Jonah wanted to do. And he wanted to go to Tarshish because Tarshish was kind of a Shan-gri-la destination resort…King Solomon sent ships to bring back trade goods from Tarshish. And you know what he brought back on those ships? He brought back silver and gold and ivory and monkeys and peacocks…And this whole legend grew about Tarshish. Tarshish is Shan-gri-la. Tarshish is where wonderful, exotic things exist. That’s what Jonah wanted.
There was a Shan-gri-la aspect to my urban ministry desire, for sure.
The signs were there. I attended a business meeting of that eclectic downtown church and there were the normal problems and realities every church ever planted has. We all know the idea of diversity is great but it has real life difficulties as it plays out in real life. The rhythms of downtown life have their own realities that belie the romance of it, and let’s be honest: middle-aged suburbanites moving to downtown lofts borders on becoming a cliche, right? And being different just to be different is hardly the “by intent” way I like to do ministry.
But I overlooked all that because of the Shan-gri-la factor. I wasn’t going to Ninevah.
What’s my Ninevah, you ask?
Get this: Suburbia…and all that entails.
A friend told me to start listening to believers I knew since they might be speaking what the Holy Spirit wanted me to learn about where He was leading me. Some were from folks on search committees: “You’ve lived and worked in the suburbs your whole life. Seems like you might really understand them.” Some were friends: “Our car got broken into again last night and the folks leaving the concert woke up our kids three times.” Some were authors/speakers: “You don’t have to go to the mission field, just look for ministry where you are.” Sometimes it was my wife: “I think maybe God’s moving you out of student ministry.”
It all played out in ways I’ve discussed at length in other entries, but the reality is that, like Jonah, I’d sort of ignored the reality and pursued an ideal. The truth is that yes, there are some things that make me crazy about the suburbs. I’ve discussed that at length here, too.
Equally true is the reality that there are needs here. Real needs. Just because many of the bills are paid and the meals are plentiful doesn’t mean there aren’t unique oppressors and diversions from truth that need someone to speak into them and help “true truth” (Francis Schaeffer’s term) set people free from the entanglements found in the lifestyles.
So, yes, there’s always a Shan-gri-la place where the legend has grown, and exotic things exist…
…we all have them…
…but we’d all save a lot of time and hassle of whatever “great fish” will be needed if we simply figure out how to get to our Ninevah’s by taking a direct route to it, and focusing on the reality of who we are created to be and doing what God equips us to do rather than the romance of what we want to be and do.
And that’s easier said than done, man.