God's covenant with Abraham was to be an "...everlasting covenant..." (see Genesis 17:7). Generations later Paul reminded the Roman believers, "For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29), a rerference to the nature of God's eternal relationship with Israel and the place of Abraham's descendants in his redemptive plan. This promise has also been a stabalizing force in the lives of millions of individuals called into his service, especially in those occasions when they have really wanted to walk away from their calling. It has been a nagging Post-it Note that kep many of us connected to the claim he has on our lives.
There's the possibility that we've interpreted this verse in a context that misses the exact point Paul was trying to impress upon the Romans. Yes, no doubt it was intended as a note to the early church in Rome to know God's plan for the people of Israel, at that time under the domination of the Roman state. It is truth, however. And, this truth has been God's grip on his people for many years, it's pressure most intense when someone was contemplating exit stage left.
God's call is a mystery few of us can articulate with clarity. There's a note inside everyone of my Bible's with several paragraphs about what I interpret to me my call. There's nothing obscure in it, and the certainty of his claim over me is total and presented as clearly as human language can describe it. Still, even after thirty five years of dealing with it the mystery lingers. Surely all of us have experienced times when we thought we had violated the sanctity of this call and had disqualified ourselves from serving him. Just as often most of us have simply been disgusted with God's people or frustrated by culture and desired a job cleaning toilets as relief from his call. However, James' words, "But he gives more grace" (James 4:6) usually softens us and brings us to restoration, renewal, and continued service. Hard-hearted, prideful ones most often find another life pursuit. Even so, his gifts and calling are "without repentance" (the KJV rendering of Romans 11:29). He is the author of what we refer to as his call, and the nature of that call is his nature, unchanging unless he speaks something new about it. But there's a reality today too. 1,700 pastors walk away every month. Even more retire. In either event, the question is whether or not God is actually finished with them?
God' progressive revelation reminds me that chapters can also define his claim over us. That means that his call is for a lifetime but can be experienced as he guides us through the seasons and phases of life. Simon Peter is perhaps the greatest biblical case study of what is meant by the chapters of faith and personal growth, or, in this context, his call. He wasn't ready to preach the Pentecost sermon the day Jesus called him on the Sea of Galilee. He initial chapter of discipleship was as a wavering, uncertain blunderbuss quick with a word, just as fast with a scolding reprimand from the Master. When he boasted that he could go to Jerusalem with the Lord Jesus reminded him that he wasn't ready (see John 13:36). His next chapter was a restored, confident, solid-rock of a man who preached that great message at Pentecost. In the next chapter he led the church in pursuing the Great Commision Jesus had entrusted to his disciples, outreach to the Gentiles, tracked through the Acts of the Apostles. His final chapter was on an upside down cross in Jerusalem. He was finally ready.
Last year as I approached my 65th birthday the idea of a next chapter flashed across my screen. Reading was one of the ways the thought of a next chapter worked it's way into my stubborn thinking. Suddenly my cohort, the baby boomers, were deciding to remain in their chosen professions and careers, pastors included, long past their anticipated retirement dates. When I read "Generation Ageless: How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Live Today" (J. Walker Smith, Ann Cluman; Harper Collins: New York, 2007) one of the frustrations in the career path today became obvious: corporate ladders were clogged because our guys weren't retiring. A couple of Google clicks later I was remidned that 1,200 to 1,400 eager servants are graduating from the six Southern Baptist seminaries each year (see www.sbc.net for a brief excerpt about the six seminaries) with no place to go. This doesn't happen to everyone. But, soon I realized that God's claim on my life would only end at death and that that there could another chapter he wanted me to fulfill in these next years, a chapter beyond the pastorate.
So, enter www.finishperiod.com, this blog, and my personal dream to offer pastors, church staff members, and congregations, counsel and assistance as they deal with the mission and ministry. Soon, my book "Finish Period: Going the Distance in Ministry" will be published by CrossBooks, an imprint of B & H Publishing Group. My prayer is that he can use my thrity-five years of experience and a heart to mentor and coach others as a next chapter of mission.
OK, it's a little presumptuous, that my skills could somehow benefit someone else. We always joked that I was the coffee manager at church and perhaps could advise church staff's about starting and maintaing a strong coffee ministry. Who knows. This next chapter isn't for everyone, and I would never say that anyone else should take this path without clarity in a call to do it. But, it does raise the question about our next chapters and usefulness in his kingdom assignment.
In exploring the dynamics of his call, I've had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people. One of the surprises has been how few of these ministry colleagues have contemplated a next chapter. Yet, believing that his gifts and calling are lifetime claims there must be a next chapter where our strengths, abilities, and years of experience can further benefit the kingdom. What a delight to encounter pastors and church staffers who are assisting church plants, working with smaller congregations, convening pastor support or accountability groups, serving as kingdom coaches or mentors, guiding college or seminary students, advising non-profits, or leading community or world missions. It is thrilling to know that the author of our calling scripts next chapters for us so that our usefulness to the kingdom can be maximized for his glory.
An article of faith is that God authored Scripture, all of it. As the Holy Spirit moved over the human writers he guided them in penning his revelation to man. Reading the details of his call over all the great leaders of his redemptive plan affirms also the authorship of his call over all of us, down through the centuries, to this day, and into the future. As I know he authored Scripture, there is the asssurance that he can author next chapters for each of us.
If that is so, we must ask, what is his next chapter for me?