From the years of 2013 to 2016 I underwent one of the most difficult and devastating emotional and spiritual crises of my entire life! However, I emerged from that time with my faith in Jesus renewed and a deeper and clearer knowledge of what God wanted me to do with the rest of my life!
In processing the deep emotional pain and feelings of grief, loss, anger, frustration, confusion—and a myriad of other emotions, I learned some deeply transformational lessons about God, myself, and His Word, the Bible. I hope that my own story and experiences will be a blessing to you as well.
The date was January 1, 2016, and I had just been laid off aka “right-sized” from Pacific Press Publishing Association—for the final time. I was the editor of Insight magazine, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventist’s weekly magazine for senior youth grades 9-12. This was my dream job and I loved it!
At this point, I think some background would be helpful.
All About Me
In November of 1999, I felt God specifically call me into full-time ministry. Just two years prior, at the age of 27, I had returned back into a real relationship with Jesus, and His church, after basically being emotionally and spiritually gone since the age of 13.
I was raised in an amazing Christian, Seventh-day Adventist community, with two conservative, committed, Christian parents, who sacrificed everything that they had to put me and my two brothers through expensive Adventist elementary, middle, and, secondary schools! I received a world-class education from teachers who loved and cared about me—and more importantly, loved Jesus with all their hearts. I learned and knew all the doctrines of the Adventist church…but I didn’t know how to—or care to—have a relationship with Jesus. And therefore, at the tender age of 13, I…well, you know the rest of the story.
After returning to a real relationship with Jesus in 1997, I began teaching the youth, and God saw fit to have me ordained as an elder, and I began to preach and teach—a lot! As I said before, in 1999 I felt God call me to full-time ministry and I began searching for opportunities for how I could become a pastor within the Adventist church. This, of course, would require returning to school and receiving, at least, another bachelor’s degree (and possibly another master’s degree). I did not have the time, money, or interest in doing that, as I was married, and both my wife and I already had full-time jobs, with existing bachelor’s and master’s degrees—and the school loans to prove it.
So I continued preaching, teaching, doing seminars, talks, and presentations. But the feeling that God was calling me to something greater continued gnawing at me. In the meantime our daughter and son were born…this of course complicated the process and made it even more difficult (I reasoned) to be 100% obedient to what I felt God had called me to do.
In the meantime, I had begun pestering my local conference with multiple phone calls, meetings, and letters, related to what I perceived as God’s call. I learned about a program they offered that I would be perfect for; it paid a large stipend/grant/subsidy for seminary education and made it possible for someone who already had an existing full-time job to receive an education and transition into full-time ministry.
I applied to the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University (in Michigan—BRRRRR!) for their Master’s in Youth Pastoral Ministry—and was accepted…but then, for some unknown reason, my local conference just did away with the grant/stipend program—and I was again at square one.
In the midst of all of this, I became…a not-so-nice-person to be around. I was miserable and making my family miserable. I wasn’t satisfied or happy with my job—feeling frantic, angry, and anxious; as if I was both missing out on God’s best and being disobedient to God’s will!
During this time, from 1999 to 2001, my wife and I took an intensive two-year lay pastoral training offered through our local conference. It was a real blessing and I was trained by one of the best pastors/evangelists: Elder Ron Halverson, Sr. This training really helped to prepare me for the ministry that I was doing in my local church, as well as whetting my appetite for more!
In the midst of all of that, in 2008, two years after our son was born, my wife and I decided to move churches. We moved from a small church, where both my wife and I held multiple offices and responsibilities, to a larger church, where we felt that the church and surrounding community could best minister to the spiritual needs of our children. To be honest, looking back on that time of training and preparation I had in that smaller church, as an elder, I got a taste of what it would be like as a full-time pastor—and I didn’t like it.
We were in a smaller church then, and our pastor had several churches in his district, which meant that for several weeks out of the month, the elders were basically in charge…being the pastor! I attended and ran countless board meetings; oversaw arguments/disputes between members; visited the sick and dying at their homes and in hospitals; did Bible studies; baptized people; interfaced with the local conference regarding administrative issues; and was awakened in the middle of the night multiple times a week, dealing with various issues involved in running a church and caring for church members.
In the fall of 2009, while teaching the youth at my church, I came across a youth Sabbath school weekly magazine called Insight magazine (formerly titled The Youth’s Instructor). I had fond memories of my high school years, reading the true stories and columns in Insight magazine, and based upon my present work as a community mental health counselor to youth, I felt that I could contribute to the magazine. So in early 2010, I contacted the editor, and after getting to know him and sharing with him my own spiritual journey and my skill set, I ended up becoming a regular contributor as well as having my own weekly online column for three years! I absolutely loved it and looked forward to answering the letters and emails that readers would send me. And the feedback I was getting from both the editors and readers was that I was good at this!
I finally felt that I was beginning to use my interests and skills for ministry for God, but it still wasn’t full-time. But I was okay with it, and continued to work my full-time job, minister at church, and raise my family. I was in contact with the Insight editors several times a week about my writing ministry and that seemed to keep me happy and satisfied.
Then, out of the blue, I got a call from the senior editor of Insight and an offer to be the full-time editor of Insight magazine! My wife and I traveled up to Hagerstown, Maryland, and spent several days both interviewing for the job and finding a place to live. I got the job! I felt that God had specifically led me and my family to this career. I had begun working for the Review and Herald Publishing Association in June of 2013—but 10 days before we were to move to Maryland, we were informed that the Review and Herald Publishing was beginning to have all sorts of problems related to its future.
To make a long story short, since then, the Review and Herald Publishing Association has closed its building and the landscape of Seventh-day Adventist publishing has gone through a drastic transformation. Personally, since I took that job, I had gone through more spiritually trying times than in my whole life!
From 2013 to 2016 I was down-sized, right-sized, re-hired down-sized again, and rehired again as a contractor. January 1, 2016, was my last day working for Pacific Press Publishing (they had taken over all the publishing responsibilities for the North American Division). I was shattered, hurt, confused, angry, and bitter! I didn’t understand why the Adventist church would willingly stop publishing the NAD’s only resource for senior youth—without first having a solid plan to replace it.
I felt that I had somehow misinterpreted God’s will and felt useless. I was angry and now totally confused as to what I needed to be doing for a living. I was my family’s only income-provider and I felt a lot of pressure to take care of them, but I also felt that it would have to be at the expense of my emotional and spiritual health. I didn’t want to return to being a counselor full-time. I had been doing that since 1996 and I…was…tired. I felt that my wife and I had correctly listened to God’s leading in this entire process and I didn’t understand what ministry God had for me.
In the midst of trying to process all of these emotions, I dove into Bible study and prayer like never before in my life. I found myself continually coming back to the story of the Apostle Peter’s boastful and prideful assurance that he would never deny Jesus, his failure, and eventual reinstatement by Jesus.
As I read, studied, prayed, and pondered over the next several weeks, little did I know that this would be the jumping-off point for one of the greatest spiritual transformations of my life!
The Main Question
Immediately following the crumbling of my ministry, I had many questions, however, the main question that I had to answer in my life was “What will I do for the rest of my life?” I also had other burning questions, such as: “How am I going to bounce back from all of this?” and “Did I really misinterpret God’s will for my life?” All of these questions were rolling around in my head as I began my journey of discovery what God wanted to teach me over the next several weeks.
Digging into the Word!
I dove deep into the study of the life of the Apostle Peter I read and re-read all the accounts of his interactions with Jesus, with others, and about his reinstatement by Jesus. I read what the Bible commentator and writer, Ellen G. White had to say about Peter and all these narratives. Ellen G. White’s book, The Desire of Ages, was invaluable to me in the study and understanding of all these narratives and I highly recommend you read the following two chapters: Chapter 75-“Before Annas and the Court of Caiaphas” and Chapter 85;- “By The Sea Once More”
The Dirty Deed!
The Bible records Peter’s denial of Jesus in all four of the Gospels. Some of the accounts differ slightly, but the main point is that Peter makes wild boasts about his faithfulness towards Jesus—basically placing himself and his faith above everybody else, and then when the moment of truth comes: he fails miserably!
Before we go on, it would be wise for you to take a minute to read all four accounts. Interestingly, they are found in all four of the Gospels: Matthew 26:31-35; Mark (dictated by Peter) 14:27-31; Luke 22:31-34, 54-62; and John 18:15-18; 25-27
The Main Point
After reading and studying all about the different narratives of Jesus warning Peter about his lack of faith and his pride and boastful attitude, my focus turned to the narrative of Jesus reinstating Peter, and for some reason, this story is where I learned the most about myself and what God wanted to teach me.
As you’ve no doubt followed my recommendation to read the four accounts of Peter’s denial of Jesus, to the letter, please take a minute to read the story of Jesus’s encouragement of His disciples and the reinstatement of Peter; curiously, the story is only found in one Gospel: John 21:1-23
In order to most effectively share what I learned, I will include the entire passage of John 21:1-23 below, with my thoughts/lessons learned/comments in brackets:
1 Jesus later appeared to his disciples along the shore of Lake Tiberias. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, and the brothers James and John, were there, together with two other disciples. 3 Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing!” [It’s easy when you’re confused, angry, grieving, and emotionally and spiritually hurting and lacking to go back to old things…old habits, old sins, old thoughts and beliefs, but don’t do it.]
The others said, “We will go with you.” [your negative choices will always negatively affect others. You never make decisions in a vacuum]. They went out in their boat. But they didn’t catch a thing that night. [Sin will always leave you empty and nothing good comes from it.]
4 Early the next morning Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize who he was. [Purposely choosing to sin separates us from Jesus and the more we sin, the less we spend time with Jesus, the less we know and can recognize Him and hear His Holy Spirit.] 5 Jesus shouted, “Friends, have you caught anything?”
“No!” they answered.
6 So he told them, “Let your net down on the right side of your boat, and you will catch some fish.”
They did, and the net was so full of fish that they could not drag it up into the boat. [Interestingly, this was the same miracle He performed when He initially called Peter to follow Him. Sometimes God has to bring us back to the times we first followed Him to remind us that He’s still God. No matter whatever’s going on with you, Jesus is waiting to get your attention so you can be used by Him.]
7 Jesus’ favorite disciple told Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon heard that it was the Lord, he put on the clothes that he had taken off while he was working. Then he jumped into the water. 8 The boat was only about a hundred yards from shore. So the other disciples stayed in the boat and dragged in the net full of fish.
9 When the disciples got out of the boat, they saw some bread and a charcoal fire with fish on it. 10 Jesus told his disciples, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” 11 Simon Peter got back into the boat and dragged the net to shore. In it were one hundred fifty-three large fish, but still the net did not rip.
12 Jesus said, “Come and eat!” But none of the disciples dared ask who he was. They knew he was the Lord. 13 Jesus took the bread in his hands and gave some of it to his disciples. He did the same with the fish. [Jesus will always make sure that our physical needs are attended to. Following Jesus isn’t only about putting faith in Him that He will fill you spiritually, but also understanding that He will fill and bless you physically as well—He will take care of all your needs] 14 This was the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from death.
15 When Jesus and his disciples had finished eating, he asked, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than the others do?” [alternate translation: “Or “more than you love these things?”]
Simon Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I do!”
“Then feed my lambs,” [new believers with new and tender and sensitive faith] Jesus said.
16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you!”
“Then take care of my sheep,” [watch out for and protect mature believers] Jesus told him.
17 Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus had asked him three times if he loved him. So he told Jesus, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.” [Peter’s character had fundamentally changed and he was now humble and no longer prideful—but his faith hadn’t caught up and he wasn’t as strong as Jesus wanted him to be and Jesus accepted him right where he was. Jesus will accept you where you are, just come to him with an honest and submissive heart and allow him to change you]
Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep. [Make sure that you are maturing believers.] 18 I tell you for certain that when you were a young man, you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will hold out your hands. Then others will wrap your belt around you and lead you where you don’t want to go.”
19 Jesus said this to tell how Peter would die and bring honor to God. Then he said to Peter, “Follow me!” [This is the first call to follow Jesus.] 20 Peter turned and saw Jesus’ favorite disciple following them. He was the same one who had sat next to Jesus at the meal and had asked, “Lord, who is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw that disciple, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” [Peter—even though he had fundamentally changed, the old “Peter” cropped up suddenly and his pride showed up again. Being a Jesus-follower doesn’t mean that the “Flesh” will just give up without a fight. It must be given over to Jesus daily—minute-by-minute]
22 Jesus answered, “What is it to you, if I want him to live until I return? You must follow me.” [This is the second call to follow Jesus—Peter was indeed still very strong-willed and stubborn. In order to be successful in our spiritual walk with Jesus, we need to shift our focus from doing and being what others are or where they are in their spiritual walk, to focusing on ourselves and Jesus]. 23 So the rumor spread among the other disciples that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say he would not die. He simply said, “What is it to you, if I want him to live until I return?”
Peter Learned His Lesson
Notice the examples of the shepherd and sheep and the focus that he puts on leaders on submission, pride, and staying faithful and vigilant during difficult times of suffering and hardship.
1 Peter 2:25, “You had wandered away like sheep. Now you have returned to the one who is your shepherd and protector” (CEV).
And again in 1 Peter 5:2-9:
2 Just as shepherds watch over their sheep, you must watch over everyone God has placed in your care. Do it willingly in order to please God, and not simply because you think you must. Let it be something you want to do, instead of something you do merely to make money. 3 Don’t be bossy to those people who are in your care, but set an example for them. 4 Then when Christ the Chief Shepherd returns, you will be given a crown that will never lose its glory. [Notice the shepherd theme that Peter continues to return to…almost as if he is recalling the lessons he learned throughout his crisis of faith in that square in front of that fire and then again on the Sea of Galilee and on the shore].
5 All of you young people should obey your elders. In fact, everyone should be humble toward everyone else. The Scriptures say, “God opposes proud people, but he helps everyone who is humble.” 6 Be humble in the presence of God’s mighty power, and he will honor you when the time comes. 7 God cares for you, so turn all your worries over to him. [This was Peter’s chief sin; the sin of pride and self-sufficiency, but he learned that the only way to overcome is to have humility.] 8 Be on your guard and stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is like a roaring lion, sneaking around to find someone to attack. 9 But you must resist the devil and stay strong in your faith. [Peter understood that the devil was out to get Christians—no doubt he remembered his own struggles when he was younger and when Jesus told him that the devil sought to sift him like wheat…and that Jesus had prayed specifically for Peter].
Peter expects to go back to his old career and is angry, deeply grieving a loss, and is confused. But Jesus reinstates Peter to the ministry that he was doing—but in a different way.
Equally, I was in the same emotional and spiritual place, but God showed me that I could still minister for Him—even more effectively than I could before—through being a counselor providing both community mental health services and freelance writing and consulting services related to the intersections of the Christian life, evangelism, discipleship, mental health, and culture, I was able to experience renewed excitement and passion for community mental health—passion; things I felt that I would never experience again.
And, over the years, I’ve had regular and consistent opportunities to share both the message of love and salvation of Jesus and the life-changing wisdom of His Word, the Bible.
In fact, due to that specific point in my life, I ended up writing a book to train others to do the same thing for people in their communities.
Like Peter, through this life crisis of the loss of my full-time job in publishing, I learned a lot about myself and I realized that I was very prideful about my position in publishing and placed entirely too much of my self-image and identification with my job—and not in Jesus.
Do I miss working full-time in publishing? Yes, I do. Although I don’t know what has in store for me in the future, I am finally at peace with what God has me doing and how I’m doing it.