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You’re Not That Important

Two of my daughters were in their school play this weekend, called Little Women, and one of them played the role of Bethie who (spoiler alert) dies near the end of the play. Bethie got written out of the story 3/4 of the way through the story, and the cast went on without her just fine. Sure, the rest of the characters missed her, but their lives went on in things like marriage and travel and work and hobbies, etc.

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon from Acts 12, where King Herod violently attacked the church as it was really growing all over Jerusalem and now into Antioch. It seemed like such a punch in the gut to read Acts 12:2, that said Herod even executed James (one of the Twelve apostles), and then arrested Peter. Peter, of course, gets a miraculous midnight escape from prison and his impending death, thanks to God's powerful hand of intervention, but as soon as he's out the door, he disappears from the story almost altogether. Two of the leaders of the church, two of the most important "characters," written out of the book of Acts – and yet, as we'll see in the following 15 chapters, the Church goes on. Disciples are made. Churches are planted. People are added to the Lord. Peter and James are gone in chapter 12, and chapter 13 begins with prayer and fasting, and choosing Saul and Barnabas to be next up.

And as I pondered this all week, I was reminded that I’m not as important as I think I am. God could write me out of the story at any moment and the advance of the kingdom of heaven won’t miss me one bit. As we pastors at River City think about taking sabbaticals and stepping away from ministry for a season of rest and renewal, it's very easy to think about all the things we'll miss out on, or all the things we do and wonder how it's all going to get done without us there. And yet, we know the church will go on just fine.

When I think about this for myself, God already is preparing someone to take over River City as lead pastor. He already knows when I get written out of the story of River City and who will take my place. I can either lean into that, and try to be helpful in that process, or I can put my head down, trying to pretend it will never happen. I choose the former. Knowing this will happen, I'm currently taking several men through a preaching cohort, training them how to study and teach God's word. Maybe they'll use that training in a pastoral situation, maybe not. My story may end abruptly, like James', or it could end in just stepping out of the spotlight, like Peter. But I pray that River City will have plenty of "faithful men who will be able to teach others also" to choose from when I get written out.

But it's not even about me. It's true for any of us. It frustrated the author of Ecclesiastes to know that he would work so hard his entire life, just to leave it all behind to someone he may or may not know, who may or may not respect his work by carrying it on... or throw it all away! His conclusion was that we should just enjoy the moments we have here on this earth, and not get too wrapped up in what it means or doesn't mean. Live generously. Live with gratitude. Serve someone else. Worship God in the time you have, and leave the ending up to him.

So maybe I'm not as important as I think I am in the grand scheme of things. But someone depends on me today, either to be a loving husband, present father, faithful preacher, compassionate counselor, or just a friend. I can enjoy the moments I have as I contribute my lines to the overall Story, and be ready for that moment when the time runs out on my part of the script and the play goes on without me.

I'll leave the ending up to Him.