Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Misgivings of Grace #2

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Many years ago, I believed that I had a call to go into ministry. The desire of my heart was to pastor a local church. I left a career in mid-life, to prepare for ministry. I was accepted at the University of Chicago in their Master of Divinity program—the oldest person they’d ever accepted into the program. Like many faithful Christians, I believed that I had a call from God. In a sense, a promise from God. God placed a desire or promise in my mind and heart. I felt this was God’s plan for my spiritual destiny, and at the time, I would have claimed the promise from our verse today.

The Book of Exodus tells the story of the Israelites being freed from slavery and left wandering 40 years in the desert until they could enter the promised land. They received a promise from God and when they left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, they certainly thought their destiny was right ahead of them. Like the Israelites in the desert, I saw my destiny being fulfilled after three years of divinity school. Like the Israelites, my destiny was delayed and took 20 years to come about.

I faced 3 years at a hard theology school. I hadn’t read anything real in years, and suddenly I was reading volumes. It was challenging and often miserable. The stress was high.  While at the school, I was aided by professors, my teaching pastor, fellow students and my mentor. I graduated on time with good grades. God put people in my life to help me survive. Without them, I would not have made it through.

Once I left the school, I got no traction in full time ministry. Ministry is like a profession with a path to follow to become a minister. As an older graduate with a background in business and finance along with family responsibilities, the path wasn’t designed for me. Younger graduates got into ordination paths and associate pastor experiences that led them smoothly into the pulpit. I had support for ordination and ministry references, but I kept running into roadblocks at every turn. The promise of divinity school wasn’t being fulfilled. Initially I was mad at God for calling me and then putting up barriers. But it wasn’t God’s fault. It was not God standing in my way, but the broken world. God gave me a call to ministry, but the world worked to prevent me from realizing that call.

God made a way for me to serve and grow as a pastor. My teaching pastor appointed me as Minister of Worship and Care for the Sunday evening congregation for two years. God blessed the service with attendance growing and lives being changed. People became a community of faith. God’s grace was there. But I had a day job and couldn’t keep up with my pastoral responsibilities for this growing community of Christ followers.

I continued my career in finance, waiting for a breakthrough in ministry. Eventually, I started an investment fund in commodities, and it performed successfully. I am pleased to say the fund won an award for best in class. You can come to my office and see the award. But after 2008, the market conditions changed in the commodities markets. Commodity funds went out of favor. I had made promises to investors, and it was no longer possible to keep those promises. My partners wanted to continue, but a promise is a promise, and I closed the fund and returned the money. The fund had a lot of promise, but it did not come to fruition. In hindsight, if it had, I might not be a pastor today.

While the promises of divinity school or the commodity fund did not come true, God provided for our needs and worked all things for our good. Looking back, I faced hard challenges and adversity, but God was always there, extending love and grace. Let’s look at how the Apostle Paul responded to adversity. Here he speaks to the church in Philippi while he is in a Roman prison.

Philippians 1:12-14 

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

Paul’s life was more challenging than mine. I was not a prisoner. I did not fear for my life. Yet, even with much worse circumstances than mine, Paul does not question his situation. For my part, I whined and complained to God. Paul accepts his circumstances and asks what he can do where God placed him. Paul doesn’t see his predicament as a “test” by God or a promise unfulfilled or a call stalled out or never realized. He seizes what opportunities he can to advance God’s Kingdom. He is not defeated. He does not whine. He is not discouraged. He does not think that God is testing or punishing him. He certainly does not believe he needs to grow more or become more holy or be more competent or that he is not spiritual enough or that he does not know enough Scripture. He simply accepts his path and does God’s work.

I wasn’t as in touch with the Spirit as Paul. I felt like I was wandering in the desert. God wasn’t my favorite person through parts of the journey. Yet, God touched parts of the journey in strange and wonderous ways.

At our church in Arizona, I began a Bible Study at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. It started small but grew steadily until it reached over 40. People loved the Bible study. I loved the Bible study. God blessed the Bible study. I spent a lot of time studying and learned a big portion of Scripture. God blessed the Bible study and blessed Jan and I through it. This winter, when we visited Scottsdale, people held two reunions for the Bible study participants to say hello to Jan and me. God’s blessing over our time teaching Scripture was clear. We were loved, my efforts were deeply appreciated, and the people in the class matured in their faith. With God’s blessing, the Bible study exceeded my expectations.

Back to the Exodus story. God provided manna for the Israelites to eat, but they wanted quail like they had enjoyed back in Egypt. God gave them quail. My Bible study was like receiving quail during the 40 years in the desert. Manna doesn’t sound very good to me, I prefer quail. However, like the Israelites, I was still in the desert. God’s call on my life to become a pastor remained unfulfilled.

Jan and I thought maybe I was to follow an untraditional path to ministry, and it wasn’t to become a pastor, it was to become a C12 Group Chair. C12 Group is an organization for Christian business owners. Their motto is to build great businesses for a greater purpose. The business owners used their workplace to advance the Kingdom of God. Phoenix did not have a C12 Group, so I started one. I was a C12 Chair for 5 years.

For me, the promise of C12 was a ministry that also provided a good income. I was working with two groups of business owners, and their businesses were thriving, but it was barely a living for us. Recruiting business owners for the program was difficult. I am not good at sales. Again, I followed what felt like God’s calling and it was not working. It was not God’s promise that failed me, but the promise of C12 Group that did not come to fruition.

C12 Group was a mix of outcomes. I became a good C12 Chair. I earned a leadership coaching certificate from Northwestern University and that helped me be a better chair. God put me in a ministry role where I thrived. I saw businesses improve. I saw business leaders create ministries at their workplace. They became godly leaders. Company culture improved. Some people found themselves and their calling. Marriages and relationships improved. I have close friendships with some of them, and a few of them support Place of Grace Fellowship!

In 2020, seemingly the worst possible timing, I started to feel God’s call back to being a pastor. I wanted to pursue pastoral ministry again. I was able to start the ordination process with Church of God Anderson. This time, God’s plan began to take shape. My C12 Group partner offered to buy out my partnership interest. The real estate market was hot, and we sold our house. God provided.

After a year of sending resumes, working on other things, and praying, I was beginning to lose hope and think that this call I carried for twenty years was only a dream. Perhaps, God never called me, and I made my will God’s will, because I wanted it so badly. It seemed like it was time to start looking at other options. At that moment, I got a call from Place of Grace Fellowship. Today, 20 years after my original call, I am a pastor. Half of the time the Israelites spent in the desert.

Last Sunday, I talked about how God doesn’t hold back God’s promise and God is not the one who tests us. The world and its lord Satan hold us back. God redeems our broken journey and turns misery to good. God’s grace is poured out freely on us. The love of God flows in one direction – toward us. God does not change the direction of the flow of grace. God does not turn down the volume of the flow. We may experience it that way, but that is not God’s doing.

Paul knew this in the Roman prison. He knew it was a world at war with God that put him there. He knew that the love of God was flowing into his life in prison every bit as much as it did when he was preaching on the acropolis in Athens, or when he built the church in Philippi. While in a Roman prison or under Roman guard, Paul witnessed the flow of God’s love in converts from the Roman praetorium of guards and soldiers. Paul saw the Roman believers gain in strength and vigor. Paul was in prison, but God’s flow of love to him never stopped, and the redemptive power of God’s love poured out on all those around Paul.

I was not as content as Paul during my journey. Over the years from when I was first called, I struggled with my faith. Yet, God gave me Christians to mentor me and build my faith. I matured as a Christian and gained abilities in areas new and completely unexpected. Looking back, I can see many times when the flow of God’s love graced our lives at just the right time. Over those twenty years, the promises of the world did not come true; divinity school, a church career, the investment fund, C12 Group and more. It was not an easy journey. The desert rarely is. Yet, God gave us provision and fruit all along the journey. In the end, the promises of God and God’s redemptive restoring Spirit came through.

Because of God’s promise and my endless pursuit of it, lives have been blessed. With the Holy Spirit beside me and me beside them, people found success in business and matured spiritually. I was blessed to help marriages and family relations. I have seen others mature when I was called to be a spiritual advisor. God’s flow of love gave me many opportunities to minister, and like Paul, the Spirit of Christ transformed people through serving where I found myself.

As Paul sat in confinement in Rome guarded by Roman soldiers, he never doubted God’s love or the presence of Christ in his life. He was content in prison or on the road evangelizing. Paul worked hard and strived to accomplish spectacular goals, but when his aspirations were often paused or destroyed by the world, Paul kept going. Paul never questioned God’s ever gracious flow of love. He used that grace to endure whatever desert experience he would face. He used that grace to act for the advancement of the Gospel of Christ.

Recently, Jan heard a story about Christians being thrown in prison in a country hostile to the Gospel. These Christians had every reason to whine and doubt God. Instead, they took the opportunity to share the Gospel with their fellow prisoners who eagerly accepted Christ. They taught them to sing worship songs. The prison administrator heard all the singing and asked the guards what was going on. The guards explained how these leaders had shared their faith and now all were singing praises to Jesus Christ. The administrator ordered the Christian leaders released immediately!

During my journey, I learned that God’s grace is always with us and flows in only one direction—towards us. I learned that Christ is always present with us. I learned that the Holy Spirit walks beside us and guides us. I also learned that the world fights back. I can assure you; God is not testing you. God is not holding back love from you. Satan fights back against God’s grace. There are physical realities of living in the world. Expect the world to resist and circumstances not being ideal, but do not lose hope. Do ministry in the midst of your circumstances.

As you leave here today, receive the flow of God’s love. Know that God is working in the background – resurrecting and redeeming your struggles and challenges. If you are in the desert, look for manna or quail. Trust God to provide. Take one step forward with the Holy Spirit. Ask what can I do today to reflect the love of God that I have received?

Paul was able to live expecting nothing but the flow of God’s love. Because of that awesome power in his life, he could accept all things, even death due to the promise of eternal life. May you accept all things through Christ who strengthens you and find peace through the Holy Spirit in any circumstance, knowing God’s grace flows freely to you and through you. Amen.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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