T.S. Eliot penned the words of the title of this reflection as part of his poem, “The Little Gidding.”
The words have been running around my head lately because it they capture the trajectory of our next twelve months.
In 1992 my journey in ministry really started with a journey to the top of Mt. Wellington in Hobart. I was in the city on placement after finishing Fusion’s six month bible college intensive. A friend had challenged me to consider the possibility of “digging in” in Hobart and committing to Fusion’s work for the long haul.
I didn’t want to.
I was scared.
I knew I didn’t have the answers.
So for a couple of days I avoided the question, and then I went for a drive.
I drove to the top of the mountain and after some minutes of staring at the lights of the city, and with some sense of dread, I uttered the words:
“OK God, you’ve got me; I’m willing to accept the challenge of this city.”
That sentence changed my life.
Up till I said it I was playing someone else’s game. After I said it I was on an adventure.
Before I said it I was often bored. After I said it, my life has had many ups and downs, but has never been boring.
Eight years later I would move with my family to the village of Poatina, and thirteen years later I would move to Victoria and ultimately to Canada, but that decision to commit to a mission has continued to shape me. Later that experience would form the foundation for my book (6 Radical Decisions.)
I have written in other places about how the church has made a mistake in the past by focussing too much on Sunday services and Pastors and not enough on what Ephesians says is it’s actual job:
To equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. (Ephesians 4:12)
On that mountain I found that I had a job to do, and my job was uniquely mine. Along the way I have known by painful and joyful experience how important friendship and fellowship are, but those relationships never take from you the “good works” that Ephesians says were prepared for you before the world was founded:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.(Ephesians 2:10)
There is something about the mission you accept that does define you, however one thing that I have been constantly reminded of is the truth that who we are is God’s handiwork and not ours. As I stood on the mountain I had no clue what those words would actually mean. It hasn’t been easy, and I think the main task anyone has on the journey of life is to hold on for the ride that Jesus has us on. I have learned the truth of N.T. Wright’s words:
Shaping our world is never for a Christian a matter of going out arrogantly thinking we can just get on with the job, reorganizing the world according to some model that we have in mind. It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point.
Because Jesus bore the cross uniquely for us, we do not have to purchase forgiveness again; its been done. But because, as he himself said, following him involves taking up the cross, we should expect, as the New Testament tells us repeatedly, that to build on his foundation will be to find the cross etched into the pattern of our life and work over and over again.
So it is with all of this in the back of my mind that I now prepare for the next chapter in the adventure.
On the 1st of July this year we will be boarding a plane to take us back to Hobart, Tasmania, where I will will take on the role of Senior Pastor of Citywide Baptist Church.
This has come as a surprise for us… it was not something we were looking for. However I really sense God’s superintending hand at work as I have been reminded of that moment on Mt. Wellington. It seems as though the promise I made 25 years ago will continue to shape my life in ways I could not have imagined..
There is always a sense of excitement about a new chapter, but there is also always a sense of grief. As we move back to Tassie (Affectionate Australian term for ‘Tasmania”) we will leave behind people we love in a place that has come to be familiar. It isn’t simple.
I have learned that as you take Jesus’s hand in faith he will continually be taking you on new roads. New roads can be scary, but God isn’t a God of the status quo. I think most people who say “yes” on whatever their version of Mt. Wellington is, identify with the words of Isaiah:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)
I am looking forward to “arriving back where we started,” but like Eliot suggested in his poem, going back is not going backward. I have a sense that like Eliot suggested the journey we have been on since 1992 means that as we glimpse the Derwent River and Mt. Wellington once more, it really will be like we will be starting to “know the place for the first time.”
I would value your prayer as we work hard to be ready for the transition in Canada over the next 5 months, and then as we arrive back in Hobart and begin a new chapter with the Citywide church family.