My first ‘solo’ pastorate was in Barriere, B.C. The town and the church are very small, but they had a good track record of being kind to new pastors. We have good memories of those five years, and it was a profitable experience.
At the end of our time there, I was growing restless, and perhaps more than a little ambitious. My wife and I both felt that it was time to move on to a bigger community and a bigger church. I expressed this to our Regional Director, and he agreed. We were content to stay there until the right church opened up for us.
At this time, a new pastorate was my only option. School or missions or anything else was not on the radar. However, I knew, deep down, that I was running on empty. I felt like a sponge that had been wrung out. As I studied for my messages, I found that I was often uneasy with the commentaries I was reading and I knew that my theological knowledge was weak. There were new cultural challenges on the horizon that I didn’t understand; words such as ‘postmodernism’ and ‘pluralism’ were beyond me. Still, I thought that getting into a new situation would make everything better.
One fine spring day I was very restless. I just had to get out of my office and go for a walk. I went down to the Barriere River and walked along the bank, praying aloud, accompanied by the sound of the rapid water. I was talking at God, insisting that He resolve this frustrating restlessness. I told Him exactly the church situation I wanted and the timetable that I desired. I never heard an audible voice, but I was overwhelmed with an impression that God was telling me to sit down and shut up. I did. I found a big rock a few feet out in the river and sat on it and just stared at the water for a while.
I had a theological lesson while looking at that river. As I tried to focus on any one part of the river, it would immediately change. I’d see a whitecap, but then as soon as I saw it, it was gone. I thought about the vastness of God and His many attributes. When you try to meditate upon any one of His perfections, you are carried along to rejoice in His many other perfections. He is beyond comprehension. Also, I thought about the source of all that water (even in this small river). Where does it come from, how does it keep on coming, seemingly without end? God truly is without end. He is the everlasting Source of all things. We can never exhaust His supply. I had many thoughts like this about God as I sat in silence. It was very rich and satisfying. I was no longer talking; I was listening – meditating on biblical truths about God.
On the way back to the church, I felt at peace with our future. God could take care of it. However, I did have one more niggling thought. Our B.C. regional convention was coming soon. I felt that I would have the answer to our future after that meeting. I thought I would meet a board chairman or someone who would point me to my next church. I didn’t take this as a promise, it was just a feeling.
A few weeks later, I left our convention disappointed. There was no revelation, no hopeful conversations, and no choice vacancies in area churches. I wasn’t upset with God, because I hadn’t taken this impression as His voice, but I was still sad.
Convention was held at Northwest Bible College that year. It was the 60th anniversary of NBC and they were handing out tapes from the banquet. The speaker was D.A Carson and the title of his message was something like, “Where is Theological Education Going in the 90s?” I knew who Don Carson was, having heard him speak 10 years earlier at Basic Baptist Beliefs in Vancouver (1985). They gave me the tape at the door as I was on my way to my car to drive home to Barriere. I didn’t think anything about it. I wanted to pout in silence for a while.
Almost half-way home after some time complaining to God again, I remembered the tape. I put it in, listened to it, and then listened to it again. I knew then that I was going back to school, but sometime later; preferably in at least a year. Perhaps by then, the conviction will have passed, I thought. I really didn’t want to go back to school. I’m not a natural academic, and we really could not afford it.
By the time I got home, I had successfully suppressed this conviction that I needed to go to seminary. It wasn’t until days later that Juanita said, “Have you considered going back to school?” that I had to revisit this possibility. I hadn’t talked to anyone about that tape and its convicting message, not even Juanita. My wife’s question blew me out of the water. I knew I didn’t want to go to school, and I was sure that Juanita didn’t want to either. I knew then that I had to pursue this further.
Our next step was to seek out valued mentors in our lives, including our parents. My dad wasn’t crazy about the idea, but he was supportive. Everyone else encouraged us strongly to head for school. When I protested to my former college president, Dr. Doug Harris, that I couldn’t afford it, he said, “If you’re going God’s way, He pays. If you’re going your own way, you pay.” Sometimes God’s provision looks a lot like a student loan, I guess, but it all worked out very well.
The timetable changed as well. By the time we had sought counsel and decided that school was the right course, it was already August. A September start was impractical, but we thought it was best to jump right on it. I resigned from the church, and three weeks later we were living in a basement suite in Pitt Meadows. Juanita began teaching piano and working on her A.R.T.C (piano certification) and I was attending Northwest Baptist Seminary at Acts.
Looking back, I am very thankful for the timing that God providentially worked out. My two most influential professors wouldn’t have been there had we waited much longer. As I’ve said before in my blog, I am particularly thankful that I had an opportunity to study under Dr. Steve Wellum who is now at S.B.T.S. in Louisville, KY.
Now, did God speak to me? No. Do I think that I or anyone else made these things happen by revelatory spiritual gifts? No. Do I think that God’s hand guided things and caused our conviction, the counsel of others and the timing to come together just right? Yes I do. This story is an example of, “We see God’s hand after the fact.” That’s how providence works.
I believe that God is actively involved in our lives and that He speaks to us. He speaks infallibly in His Word. That is our anchor. However, prudence and godly counsel of mentors, family and friends and the wisdom found in good books are gifts of God as well. These temporal blessings are in no way at the same level as the Word of God. Regarding my story, I would not say, “God told me to go to seminary.” There was nothing flashy, nothing miraculous, nothing weird that went on in this whole process.
This has been my longest post yet, but I have probably raised more questions regarding what I believe than I have answered. I will do another post on my convictions regarding the so-called sign gifts in the New Testament very soon, Lord willing.