The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established. . . .
The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
— Proverbs 16:1–3, 9 —
On Wednesday August 26, the elders of Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia (20 miles south of Washington, D.C.) unanimously called me to be the pastor of preaching at their church. Since June I have been in conversation with them about this position. In July Wendy and I had a wonderful visit with the elders. Following that trip, the elders announced my candidacy for the position of teaching elder (pastor of preaching) and for the last 30 days we (the church family and our family) have been prayerfully considering this call.
During this season of prayer, our whole family visited OBC. We loved it. Our kids loved it. And we felt increasingly convinced that God was leading in this process.
In our visit, we were deeply encouraged by the way the Word of God and the gospel was made central in all aspects of the church. We loved meeting the families at OBC and hearing their passion for Christ and work of the ministry in and through the church. I preached twice (on membership and eldership) and got to sit in on a handful of activities during the week. Long story short, we left Northern Virginia on August 17 hopeful and prayerful that we would soon return.
Next week, we will do just that. After six months of seeking the Lord and watching him direct and redirect our steps, we will load up all our earthly belongings and join God’s people in Woodbridge, Virginia.
We are incredibly excited about this move. We praise God for his faithfulness and love and provision during these months of uncertainty (=unemployment). We give thanks to him for all of you who prayed with us, encouraged us, and ministered to us. And we marvel at how he led us to OBC. It’s that story I want to share here—that this marvelous works might be magnified and that you might be encouraged in your own earthly pilgrimage.
Marveling at God’s Direction in Our Lives
There is a sanctified tension in the Psalms between marveling (at God and his works) and not marveling (in ourselves and our works). On one hand we are not to marvel in things too great and marvelous for ourselves (Ps 131:3). But on the other, we are to “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples” (Ps 96:3). Created to worship God, we cannot stop ourselves from marveling. Left to our own devices we will marvel at creation (Rom 1:21–23), but redeemed by God we are freed to marvel at the superlative works of our God.
Most specifically, the believer is given eyes to behold the beauty and wonder of the cross. This after all is what is meant in the canonical context of Psalm 118:22–24:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
But the believer is also given eyes to behold the wonder of God’s works of providence—in history and in his own life. Unlike the inerrant interpretation of events in Scripture, we have no way of perfectly discerning the meaning of his works in our lives. But, with sanctified reasoning, we can look back on the events of our lives and discover some of his purposes.
Because our lives are not yet complete and because our skills of interpretation are fallible, such interpretation of events will always be biased, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider the gracious hand of God on our lives. In fact, we should marvel at how God orders our steps, for it gives us confidence for his ongoing and future work in our lives.
God Directs Our Words
On June 24 I received a message from Tom Fillinger, CEO of Ignite US, a ministry catalyzing disciple-making and promoting church health. Tom is a Facebook friend—someone I have yet to meet in person, but who shares many personal friends and theological convictions. He saw that I had stepped down from my church in Indiana and asked if I was interested in talking to a church in Virginia. That question is what materialized into the search process with OBC and yesterday’s announcement.
What strikes me as marvelous in my providential conversation with Tom is not just that it came from a blog I wrote, it is that I could have written any other introductory sentence not mentioning my resignation from Calvary. In fact, I debated about mentioning it at all. Since February when I told the church that ongoing strife led me to step down, I had said almost nothing on Social Media or this blog. I could be wrong, but I believe June 24 was the first time I mentioned it publicly.
Amazingly, my decision to mention on this post was used by and subsumed under God’s purpose in moving our family to Virginia. As Proverbs 16:1 says, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.” I marvel at how God used that single sentence, which Facebook pasted on my timeline, to draw Tom’s attention to our situation, which in turn led us to OBC, a church he was consulting with at the time. It is a reminder how God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s free will are never at odds with one another. Rather, my free choice to write that sentence was the sovereign means of beginning our move to Virginia.
Still, there is something even more marvelous. The blog that contained that opening sentence was about this book: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church. Without giving all the details, let me explain how that book came into my awareness.
God Directs Our Steps
As important as Jack Miller’s book was and is, “a classic that all in ministry should read” (via David Prince), I had not heard of it until this year. And the way I came to hear of it marks out the providence of God again.
For years I’ve seen quotes from Jack Miller on Twitter, but not until I began the interview process with a church in Minnesota did I learn of the book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church. Yet in that interview process, I saw how Miller’s book had played a large role in shaping the gospel-centered focus of that church. Doing diligence to acquaint myself with that church, therefore, I read the book.
As you can guess, that interview process did not result in a call. But it did lead me to write a blog post which did. Still, there is more to the story.
The way in which I was connected to that church in Minnesota came from the confluence of two other “failed” search processes. In the fall of 2014 I was in conversation with a church in Florida. Despite sharing many passions for theology and local church ministry, I did not yet sense release from our church in Seymour to pursue the position there. Therefore, with sadness I told that church, I could not proceed.
A few months later, when things at our church has deteriorated to the point where staying seemed impossible, I was contacted by a Bible college in Minnesota. After visiting with them and even teaching a class on site, that school decided to hire a professor with more classroom experience and philosophical expertise. I was the #2 candidate.
As a side-note: our visit to Minneapolis was postponed by an enigmatic ten-hour plane delay. This delay prevented us from meeting with a key administrator at the school. Could a meeting with him have changed the outcome of our interview process? Maybe. We’ll never know. But since nothing falls outside of God’s providence, I don’t regard this delay as merely happenstance.
With both the church and the college, there was sorrow in not “getting the job,” but also mutual respect that was gained in the process. And in March of this year, leaders from church in Florida and the school in Minnesota independently recommended me to the church in Minnesota. At the time, we thought this providential intersection of recommendations was a sure sign that God was bringing us to Minnesota, but that belief evaporated when the chairman of the search team called to say they were going with the other candidate. I was the #2 candidate. Again.
Looking back, the result of each search was painful and seemingly fruitless at the time. However, from the present it is clear these searches were not ultimately fruitless, as they played roles in moving us closer to Occoquan Bible Church. By directing us to the church informed by Miller’s book, it led me to read and write about a book that both informed my thinking about church and prompted a conversation with Tom Fillinger and eventually the elders at OBC.
And these related incidents are just some of the parts of the process. As with Hebrews 11:32, time fails me to share the way four closed doors in Indianapolis prevented us from moving there, or how multiple personal invitations to apply at different seminaries or Bible colleges returned void. All in all, it seems clear now that God has been directing our steps to Virginia.
Praise God From Whom All Our Footsteps Fall
As I look back on the last six months and the last six years, I marvel at how God has directed our steps. While I believe I can detect the contours of his handiwork in a few of these events , I by no means presume to think I can measure all God has done or is doing with the past or the present. Nevertheless, by taking time to reflect on what he has done it increases my confidence in what he is doing and will do.
I share my story here in hopes that it will encourage you to trust him as you walk by faith and not by sight. I know many who are seeking pastoral roles right now, and my heart is moved especially for you. To seek the right church to serve is an emotionally-taxing, physically-demanding, long process. I am praying for many of you; let me know how I can pray for you.
For all our family and friends and the saints at Calvary and OBC, were it not for you—praying for us, encouraging us, and ministering to us—we would have surely stumbled. Yet, instead of stumbling God has answered prayer and directed our steps to Occoquan Bible Church.
For that move, we couldn’t be more excited, more thankful, or more awed by the marvelous works of God has performed in these recent days. For most of the last six months my wife and I would shake our head everyday wondering what God was doing. We would pray and wait, only to watch another possibility collapse: “Really, God, really?”
Today, with immeasurable gratitude, we can see more clearly what he has been doing, but that doesn’t mean we now look away from him. Rather, as he taught us in these days, we remain steadfast in seeking his presence above and beyond a new and better position in ministry. As we go forward, we will (by his grace) seek him first, so that we will continue to walk in his way—however that looks; wherever that leads.
These last six months have been an incredibly uncertain journey, but like Frodo preparing for his quest in Rivendell, we are only at the beginning. As we head to Virginia next week, we pray God will bear great fruit in and through us as we join the work already in progress at Occoquan Bible Church. We see so much potential in that church and can’t wait to be apart of their fellowship. May God continue to direct our steps and yours as we trust in his providence and seek him above all else.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds