15-year-old email

By Todd Stiles

It was somewhat surreal, and a little surprising. Not that I had expected something really different, but it still raised the eyebrows a bit.

That was my reaction to an email from one of our staff, one that contained a letter and some initial “napkin notes” I wrote back in 2003. In it were the broad vision strokes for the church we were about to plant. As I read over it, a wave of emotion came over me. It seemed like just yesterday I was jotting down those thoughts. Yet here it was, almost 15 years later, and much of what I was reading now had concrete names and places.

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that the overall themes of small groups, church planting/multiplication, a strong staff, and missions were woven all throughout the letter and penciled scratchings. You can see why my facial expression was one of pleasant surprise: God was growing this type of fruit right here within this local faith family! Frankly, I chuckled as I remembered the times I wondered if what lay ahead was actually possible.

Little by little, though, through the ups and downs and the good and bad, God was — and still is — actually accomplishing His will, right in the middle of our messy lives and young church. Those initial thoughts became — and are becoming — a humble and delightful reality by God’s grace and goodness.

By no means am I saying we have arrived. Not at all! There are many miles left to travel, much yet to learn. There are corrections to make and adjustments to aim for. But the call to “keep on keepin’ on” is always heard with a bit more clarity when you look back and see the Lord’s faithfulness. He has not been detoured by our mistakes, nor derailed by our missteps. Neither our sin nor our success has thwarted His sure will. Seeing that truth in the rearview mirror always provides a more beautiful windshield vista.

So church planter, a few encouraging reminders rooted in that 15-year-old email:

Rest assured, God is working even when you think he isn’t. Raised eyebrows and under-the-breath chuckles often are our reaction when we spot God’s sure, but admittedly slow, hand of divine providence. You see, God’s work crawls along at a pace few of us actually notice sometimes; we too many times fail to see his sovereign will being fleshed out in the midst of all our life’s intersections and connections. After all, God’s sovereignty moves ever so subtly. But moving it is. Confidently. Completely. Convincingly. Though you may not see it, though you may be unaware of it, and though you can rarely pin down the specifics, rest assured that God is working.

Don’t quit, even when you feel like it. Because God is actually working, it’s always too early to quit. He’s faithful to His Word, committed to seeing us — you — all the way through to the end. So let’s stay with His people on that journey as well! Galatians 6:9 is precisely spot-on: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

See the bigger picture even when you’re not sure what it is. In a peculiar way, reading that email reminded me of what occurs when you see a wall tapestry. Ah, yes, the front is always beautiful. And makes visual sense! But turn it around and what do you see? A scrambled mess of threads that appears to have no order or purpose. But it actually does — to the designer!

So it is with our lives. Our church. Even this world. God is weaving His purposes and accomplishing His plan, even in the times when you don’t think it looks right or makes sense. The Grand Designer is working. He’s active. He’s in control.

And sometimes all it takes is a 15-year-old email to help you see it.,

Published July 25, 2018

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Todd Stiles

Todd Stiles serves as Lead Pastor at First Family Church in Ankeny, Iowa, which he and a core team planted in 2004. Since then, FFC has planted three more churches locally and one internationally. Todd also serves as a church-based CPC, volunteers on the board of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, and is a member of the SBC Executive Committee. You can follow him on Twitter (@ToddStiles) or read more of his writing at ToddStiles.net