It’s been a while since I’ve posted about myself, so I thought I’d give you all an update on my life and talk a little about what’s been going through my mind.
I’m in a weird spot in life these days. To most, it just looks like a time of transition, a change in life direction. To some, it looks like an opportunity to move in a new direction. To me, it looks like waiting on God’s direction while doing my best to bloom where I’ve been planted.
Let me explain.
I have recently started a new job as an Operations Analyst at Perricone Juices, located in Beaumont, CA. Basically, I get to talk to a lot of people, measure things, and then play with lots of numbers on spreadsheets, with a heavy emphasis on the last two. If you know me, it shouldn’t really surprise you that I’ve ended up in a job like this. And yet, at the same time, it should.
I have spent virtually all of my education (all the way back to my Christian Pre-K class) preparing to be a pastor. I have interned at churches with a wide variety of ministries focused on serving the whole church, from preschool to college to grief counseling to marital reconciliation and strengthening. Beyond that, I have a pretty wide array of experience in volunteer positions as well. I went to a Christian undergrad (Biola University, represent!), where I majored in Christian Education Ministries, and then continued on at Talbot School of Theology, where I earned my Masters of Divinity, with a focus on Pastoral Care and Counseling. I graduated in December 2015, and was excitedly looking forward to finally being able to focus my attention solely on ministry (aside from a couple part time jobs to pay the bills).
But God had other plans.
Eleven months ago, my position as a youth minister was terminated (technically, my contract wasn’t renewed, but it felt the same), and all the plans that I thought were about to come to fruition evaporated before me instead. After some prayer and stubbornness, I decided that I was going to stay at my church: 1) because I love the people at my church, 2) because I believe in the mission that this church is committed to, and 3) to show the youth that I’m not just at this church for the paycheck, but because of reasons 1 and 2.
Since then, I’ve struggled with discerning God’s leading, sought to be faithful in the midst of it, and now, here I am.
A few weeks back (or maybe six), my Bible study was reading through Acts 9 together. This chapter covers the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus, and his life following that conversion to Christianity. As we were reading this time, two verses in particular really stood out to me:
And he [Saul] spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:29-30)
And then he’s gone. For chapters. Just chillin’ in Tarsus. The passage of time can be weird when you’re reading the Bible. Since we can read a couple chapters in a fifteen minutes, when time isn’t explicitly stated, it can feel like things must be happening quickly. Except because of Galatians 1:17-18 we know that Acts 9 covers at least a span of 3 years, probably more. And that’s just the part of the chapter that gets Saul to Jerusalem. Then he’s sent off to Tarsus for an unspecified time before Barnabas comes to get him in Acts 11. Some scholars think this may have been as many as 9 or 10 years, possibly more.
Now, Tarsus wasn’t exactly an unfamiliar place to Saul. He was born there. He probably had family there, so that was the safest place for him to go when his life was in danger. But he had just received a clear mandate from God to bring the gospel to the Gentiles (aka everyone who wasn’t Jewish). And he was Tarsus.
What was this time like for Saul? If I know anything about Saul, I know for certain that he was sharing the gospel. But was it frustrating? He’s supposed to go tell the world about Jesus. And he’s stuck in Tarsus.
As I’ve spent more time reflecting on and speculating about Saul’s time in Tarsus, I find myself identifying with this stage in his ministry. I still feel very strongly that God has called me to full-time vocational ministry in the future. But when people ask how long I’m going to be working outside the church, I don’t have an answer. Maybe a year or two. Maybe a decade. Maybe more. Only God has the answer to that. But I know that I’m here for now, and that God has called me to be faithful wherever he has placed me.
We know from Acts 18:3 that Saul was a tent maker by vocation. We also know from Acts 22:3 that Saul was raised in Jerusalem and that he was educated under Gamaliel, one of the leaders of the Pharisees. It’s possible that he learned how to make tents when he was growing up, but I would say that those chances are pretty slim. And chances are equally slim that he learned to make tents during his time as a Pharisee.
Following this train of thought led me to this realization: it’s very probable that Saul learned to make tents during his time in Tarsus. Maybe that was the family trade, and when he came back, he learned from his dad. Maybe not. But one thing is sure: Paul used his tent making as a means of supporting his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:9), as a networking opportunity (Acts 18:3), and as an opportunity to minister (also, 1 Thessalonians 2:9).
I don’t know what God has for me in this season. Maybe I’m just here for a little bit. Maybe I’m here for a while. Maybe this is my chance to learn a “trade,” so to speak. Maybe I’ll end up bi-vocational in the future. I don’t know.
But I do know that I’m here and that I’m called to be faithful.
Welcome to Tarsus.