In just a few weeks, I will turn 38 if the Lord wills. As this birthday approaches I have had many thoughts on my life that I wanted to share for the edification of others. (It will sound like rambling, but there is a point, I promise.) I also want to be transparent. Many times we see people on the outside and have no idea what is actually going on in their lives. I hope this view into my personal struggles helps you see the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
For many pastors 2020 was an extremely difficult year. COVID brought about out the worst in all people, political divisions exploded within congregations, and we had to scramble to completely redo our approach to ministry (online services, how we do hospital visits, etc.) It was a crazy time. However, for me it was so much more.
In 2020 my Dad died at 69. He had polycystic kidney disease (PKD). This led to him having two kidney transplants which resulted in a host of other health issues that eventually led to his body shutting down. Shortly after his death, I was diagnosed with PKD as well. The diagnosis was not surprising; one of my brothers and one of my sisters have it. One of the indicators of PKD is high blood pressure. When I went to the nephrologist my blood pressure was 170/110. It had been as high as 210/130. So far we have a pandemic, Dad died, and a PKD diagnosis, but wait, there’s more!
My life as a pastor has weirdly mimicked my Dad’s ministry. When my Dad arrived at his first church the average age was 65 and the attendance was around 75. He buried almost the entire church in his first few years. The church turned around, and after 13 years as their pastor, the church hit a high of 240 in attendance. They were looking to move to two services and eventually build a new building. During this time a new member in the church attacked Dad, his elders caved, and he resigned and left the church. At this time he had seven kids, a new baby, and they were looking into buying or building a new house.
When I cam to Antioch, the church averaged about 75 in attendance and the average age was about 65. Over the first few years I buried a substantial portion of the church. God moved, and the church grew. Going into 2020 we were talking about moving to two services or building a new building. I had two elders serving with me, and we had a lot of new people. My daughter was born in February of 2020 giving my wife and I eight children. I was also completing construction on a new house for our growing family. Eerie isn’t it?
All of this was going through my head as we entered 2021, my 13th year as pastor here. For additional context, my Dad’s dad died unexpectedly when he was 37. My Dad dreaded his 37th year half thinking he would die the whole year. Guess how old I was turning in 2021? 37. Guess what also happened in 2021? Church conflict galore. It began with church discipline, continued on with people attacking me and the other elders, and ended with more church discipline. The entire time I was thinking about what happened to Dad. Would the same thing happen to me? Would I be forced to leave just as he had?
2021 continued to be a difficult year. Joshua broke his arm. My aunt died. Lydia and I lost a baby. My grandma died. Michael broke his arm. Inflation began to pinch us financially. Amazon destroyed my driveway. (My driveway is about 300 yards long. We had to park on the road and walk every time it rained.)
In addition to this was my health. The more I reflected on my Dad’s life and legacy the more I understood him. He ate the weirdest food (salmon, tofu, and vegetable soup, anyone?) He would take me to the YMCA to jog three times a week. I remember as a 6 year old running 3 miles with him every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I remember him doing exercises in the living room in the mornings. As he got older and could no longer jog, he would go on walks. As I looked at my kids it began to make sense. If I want to be around to see them grow up, I have to eat weird things too. I have to exercise or I simply won’t be there. This is part of the reason I walk to work every day.
People sometimes look at me funny when they find out I am on a diet. Yes, I am thin enough. No, I don’t always like what I am eating. Yes, it is weird for a thin person to be on a diet. The same goes for running. I am currently training for a marathon, but do you know what I hate more than being on a diet? Running. Why do I do it? So I can live long enough to play with my grandkids one day should the Lord will. I have to take care of my body so that I am here for a least another 18 years (long enough to raise Andrew.)
So what does all this have to do with my birthday? In spite of my fears, worries, losses, pains, uncertainties, lack of faith, grumbling, complaining, etc. God is faithful. He allowed my dad to live long enough to see every one of his kids grown, out of the house, and serving Jesus. By His grace, He will do the same for me. He answered my prayers and gave me the money to redo my driveway (through a Pastor Appreciation gift from my church.) He blessed us with another child after our miscarriage (born on Dad’s birthday!) He gave comfort through the loss of my grandma. He brought us through the conflicts at church, and I made it to year 14 as pastor! He has used medication, diet, and exercise to lower my blood pressure. And, Lord willing, I will live past the dreaded 37.
I don’t know all that you are facing, but I do know the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. If you do not know Him, commit your life to Him today. He will never fail you. If you are struggling, keep your eyes on Christ. You may be going through the valley, but He will bring you to the other side. He is faithful, and His ways are good!
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He Who promised is faithful.” – Hebrew 10:23
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful.” – 2 Timothy 2:13