There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. -Louis L’Amour
Yesterday was an interesting day for me. I ended my time at Grace CP Church with mixed emotions. It is time to move on to where God is leading me but I was surprised at how emotional it was. I did not expect to be so upset – though part of it was that I preached after the special music (You’ve Got a Friend) and that was difficult. Things really hit me at that moment and I realized I was truly leaving and heading for a new journey in my life (along with my family since they are along on this journey too).
The harder part of the day was the feeling of being lost. I have spent the better part of nearly three years serving this church and it more or less ended yesterday (today is actually my last day but no one will be there) and then there was nothing. I felt like everything had ended and I was lost for a time.
It is funny how God speaks to us. I wasn’t looking for an answer at all yesterday I was just kind of lost in being lost. I am reading a book called An Altar of the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor – a good book in many ways. However, in one of the chapters, I encountered the quote above (she begins each chapter with a quote) and I was floored. I started the book last week and happened to be on this chapter at the exact moment I needed to read that quote? Coincidence? I don’t think so.
God spoke to me at the exact moment I needed to hear those words. God knew what I would be feeling on Sunday afternoon and things just fell into place and I encountered God’s voice right when I needed to hear it.
During my sermon, I talked about life being a series of journeys and this is true – we travel paths as we are lead. God shows us the direction and we follow and sometimes we may feel like we have turned the wrong way but God is waiting with a word of comfort or guidance – just when we need it.
I also realized that sometimes we hear God’s voice when we aren’t looking for it. I wasn’t really looking for any words – I was just a bit lost but yet in that time, there were the words. How often do we miss God speaking to us because we aren’t looking or maybe we are looking for words and we miss them. Perhaps, we are so determined for a message from God that we fail to see the message when it comes because we think we know how it will come to us. I have found that I hear from God when I don’t expect it or when I am not looking to hear from God and it is always in ways that I would have never expected.
So the journey starts anew today. Today is a new day with a new direction in my life and it is not an end but rather a beginning. I am excited to see what God has in store for the next part of the journey. Hooah!
Here is my final sermon to Grace CP Church that I preached today. It was a challenge to find the right words to say farewell and to sum up a pastorate and this is my attempt. Is is based on 2 Corinthians 13:11-14:
I am grateful that today is the last day that I have to preach after Jamey sings the special music! God speaks volumes through his talent and there are Sundays when the special music is more than enough and no sermon is necessary…sorry, but I am still going to preach today.
Today is the day. Today is a day of possibilities and excitement. New things are happening both for me and for you. Today is a good day but it is a sad day too – because today we end our journey together and begin new, separate ones as God leads us in new directions to new ministries. Today is a day of new things, of endings, and of beginnings.
Let me thank you for your patience and investment over these past few years. I have learned some invaluable lessons from you. I have learned firsthand, from you, how much love and affection a pastor can feel and how much he can store in his heart toward his congregation. You have met me with grace, mercy, and trust. You have graciously obliged all of my crazy ideas and whims – and I will admit some were a bit crazier than others. You have offered support and encouragement at times that I needed it most. You have patiently waited as I have clumsily stumbled through many of ministry’s firsts with you and I thank every one of you.
Of course, I cannot thank all of you without thanking the guy who is sitting behind me. While we did not have the best beginning to our relationship long, long ago, I am grateful to Terry in ways that words can never fully express. He held me back at those times when I needed to be and he pushed me at those times when I needed to be. He kept my head out of the clouds and more than once gave me a good kick in the . . . well let’s say pants. He has been a great guide, mentor, and friend – sorry, Janeane, I am going to make his head swell – and I thank God every day for my friendship with Terry and I am glad he has been part of not only my life but Lisa’s and Sophia’s as well.
As I began to prepare for this morning, I took a trip down memory lane. You have been the home to nearly all of my ministry firsts. My first sermon in view of a call was in this pulpit, well actually the brown one in the narthex but close enough. My first Sunday as a pastor anywhere was right here. My first attempts at program development and my first bible Study were at this church. My first Sunday as an ordained minister and my first time serving communion was at this church. The first time I moderated a Session meeting was at this church. Even the first time I shared in a baptism was right here. And this morning is no different. I realized that even today is another first. Today is my first last Sunday. Today, I will preach my first last sermon. So even in this time of transition, we are still experiencing firsts together.
As I was searching for a text and for the topic this morning, I realized something extraordinary. First sermons are easy. Well, if you take out the nerves and fear and the uncertainty, they are easy. At that point, you are fresh and maybe a little naïve. The church has never heard you. All of life seems so full of possibilities. Those first messages are full of hope and anticipation. Then you eventually get to the last message. I am discovering those are not as easy. What do you say to the people that you love on that last day? What do you share with them? What do you say if there is the chance you will not get to personally share with them again?
Now, I will put you at ease. That sounds like a lead-in to a very long sermon and I do not think any of us want a long, sad sermon today – well at least I do not want one this morning. Additionally, we are going to meet again. I hope that I will be invited back at some point in the future for a homecoming or a revival. I know our paths will cross from time to time.
As I was considering this occasion and what I need to say, I believe that Paul gives us a fitting passage. Yes, for those who know me well, this is significant that I would use Paul in my last sermon, as he is not one of my favorite people in the Bible; but he provides the benediction that I longed to give, but proved too ineloquent to write. I would invite you to join with me at the conclusion of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth and I will be reading it as it is found in the New Revised Standard Version:
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
If we wanted to use a Pauline benediction, he gives us plenty of possibilities in each of his letters. In each letter, he gives a farewell benediction as he always ended his letters to his churches with a farewell and some final instructions. He anticipated meeting them again in future encounters and always held out the possibility that it would happen. He rarely said good-bye in his letters but rather “see you later” or “farewell” or even “TTYL”. I intend to do the same thing this morning. As I am saying farewell, I have a few final instructions for you courtesy of Paul.
What did Paul share with his Corinthian brothers and sisters? What was his farewell and conclusion? How did he sum up his instruction and his hope for those people that he loved at the church in Corinth?
In this passage, Paul gave a final challenge to the church as he was preparing to close his letter. Paul realized the importance of this time in the lives of the people. He recognized that he could not merely say “good-bye” without reiterating those things that were important.
The letter closes with a challenge to listen and hear what he has to say to them. Paul expected, no he demanded, that the church fervently pursue the goal of holiness, righteousness, and godly living. He expected that they set high standards and he showed them by his own example as he lived his life. He expected that they would demand the most of themselves. Paul was not pacified with superficial Christian living and growth. He was an all or nothing kind of guy. And if they were going to carry the name of Christ to a lost and dying world, if they were going to be the church, if they were going to worship together then he expected that they would do so with fervor and passion. But there is more than just fervor and passion in spreading the gospel and being the church.
One of the recurring themes in nearly all of Paul’s letters is unity and reconciliation. To nearly every church, he stresses the importance of unity within the body of Christ. Even here, he ends the letter by encouraging them to live in harmony with one another. Now, does anyone want to venture and take a guess as to why this is such an important, recurring, and volatile topic?
I believe that Paul had seen numerous instances where the church was struggling to fulfill its rightful place in the world because of the rifts and cliques within the local congregations. Oh, they have the passion and the fervor but in Paul’s time, there were certainly some personal issues. You could look at rest of this letter to the Corinthians, or the first letter to the Corinthians, or the letter to the Thessalonians, or any other part of the New Testament and find a reason for personal conflict and dissension. Some were theological differences as they were literally inventing the Church but some were also personality differences.
Paul recognized that the health, endurance, integrity, and effectiveness of the local church was going to hinge heavily on their ability to look beyond differences and find common ground in harmony, peace, and love. He knew that their ability to draw nearer to and to please God was going to hinge largely on whether they could live in peace with one another.
And nothing has changed. For Grace CP Church, your health, endurance, integrity, and effectiveness is going to be determined by how well you are able to come together and work in ministry.
Let me challenge you in the words of Paul, “be in harmony with each other, and live in peace.” I believe that our church is unified in the understanding of the majority of the major Biblical doctrines. There might be some minor differences on certain details and convictions, but overwhelmingly, the church agrees on most interpretative issues. That is not my major concern.
My bigger concern is harmony within our body and community. Now, I am going to take a little liberty here, be exceedingly honest, with the hope that you will again be patient and tolerant on my last Sunday, and not fire me in my last 15 minutes in the pulpit. Our work as a church is hindered when we fail to get along. I am not talking about differences in theology or doctrine. I am talking about hurtful comments made behind people’s backs and even those little cliques or groups that tend to exclude others and keep people (and the church) from reaching its full potential in Christ. They are always part of the church, this church, the one next door, the one up the street, the universal church, unfortunately, and they hinder God’s work. Let go and be in harmony with one another. It is hard and I even have been wrapped up in them but we need to live in harmony and let. Our service to God will not reach its full potential; we will not find the intimacy we want with Christ until we are able to pursue peace and harmony and be inclusive of everyone. The work of the kingdom of God in this world is challenging enough, we do not need to be dividing ourselves in this place.
Paul was never one to mince words. He tended to declare what he intended with boldness and clarity. I am certain that there were times when those messages were hard to hear and receive and I am sure more than once he managed to upset someone here or there. However, there was an overriding factor in Paul’s message to the local church. While he demanded a lot of them, while he declared the truth unapologetically to them, he also loved them deeply. Paul’s desire was not to hurt feelings. It was not to degrade or belittle those that had ways to go to improve in their attempt to follow Christ nor was it to humiliate people publicly for their failures. Rather, he simply longed to lead them closer to their Savior. His love demanded that he share openly and honestly with them about those things that hindered their relationship with Jesus.
And when all is said and done, when Paul is done teaching and preaching, when Paul is done reiterating his final instructions, we see evidence of his love shining through. He called for the obedience of God’s people, and then he bid God’s grace and blessing on those he loved.
Paul’s desire for this church was simply for them to find and experience all that God had for them. He wanted them to experience the magnificent freedom of Christ’s grace. He wanted them to bask in the greatest of the Heavenly Father’s love for them. He wanted them to feel the presence of God and to experience true fellowship with God through the power of the Spirit. I want nothing less for you.
I have often wondered how I would judge the success of my ministry here. Over the past few months, I have thought often about how I would gauge my effectiveness in fulfilling my mission as the pastor of a portion of Christ’s church. And I believe that I finally know. I understand that there are plenty of ways that I have failed. In fact, most of my regrets are sins of omission, rather than commission. I wish that I had found time to visit more. I wish that I could have taken a greater part in the individual lives of God’s people. I wish that I could have given more yet seminary always seemed to dominate my time. Yet, even with regrets, even with ways that I wish I had done better, I believe that it is still possible to find success in this ministry. I have decided that the way to gauge your effectiveness in ministry is by the measure of the love and the hope that you have for the people of the congregation.
You were with me during a significant time in my life – that is my journey through seminary and my journey to discern my calling to ministry – and that changed several times. We worked in ministry together, we prayed together, we cried together, and we grew together. Now, we part paths and we seek to fulfill God’s calling in our lives as we each embark on a new journey. Some of the words Jamey sang this morning say “You just call out my name; and you know wherever I am I’ll come running to see you again.” Well, I do not know that the Army will let me do that because I do not want to end up AWOL but that does not mean you will not be in my prayers. I will be in prayer for you and I will check on you no matter where we end up in this world. I may not be here but I am not saying good-bye – just farewell. As Christians, we never, ever really say good-bye.
Now my friends, my brothers and sisters, for the final time as you pastor, I say, “May the love God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you on this day, and tomorrow, and in the tomorrows yet to come.” Amen and Hooah!
Here is today’s worship bulletin. To create the bulletin cover image, I used Tagxedo, the logo of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and the text of my sermon. You can find a full version of the image here.
My church holds a combination Maundy Thursday/Tenebrae Service. The format remains the same every year but the readings (and shadows) vary slightly. You can find a copy of the Worship Bulletin from tonight by clicking on the link. I would love feedback and comments.
Here is the Advent devotional I shared with Grace this morning: Sunday 1. Check back each Sunday during Advent to read the next week’s devotion.
Here is today’s sermon based on Ezekiel 37:1-10:
We are familiar with seasons. If I asked you what season we are in right now, I am sure you could all answer. It is obvious when nature passes from one season to another – most of the time! Like nature, people, families, and even churches go through seasons as well. We have seasons of rebirth and growth, and seasons of dying and death. Really, seasons are simply part of the life we live and we can expect to go through seasons from time to time. Sometimes when we are in a season of dying or death, we have a choice before us. We can accept it or we can choose to work for a revival!
When I speak this morning about revival, as you will see, I’m not simply referring to a week of extra worship services and a guest preacher as we often think of revival…I’m talking about a revival in the hearts and lives of God’s people, an awakening of the Spirit of God in us that burns into our community and beyond.
Although revival is a movement of God, and it is really nothing that we can actually schedule to take place…we can do our part by praying for God to pay us a visit and do a miraculous work in us and through us, and for His spirit to reach into our community changing lives through the Gospel of Christ.
Before revival can begin, we have to establish where we are in terms of spiritual need, and then decide if revival is what we truly want and more importantly, what we need.
So today, I want to look at a passage of scripture that I do believe deals with the subject of revival, and borrowing the title from an AW Tozer book, I want us to decide on Rut, Rot or Revival.
Turn to Ezekiel 37 (give a moment, and then “blow dust” off it).
Let’s face it, Ezekiel is not usually on our must read list for books of the Bible, in fact, preparing for this message was the first time in a while that I have opened it up.
It was written by Ezekiel who was a Jewish prophet and priest, but had been exiled to Babylon around 597 BC.
This book came out of his 23-year ministry of preaching to the exiles of Judah and the remnant left in Jerusalem who had lost focus of God’s covenant with them
Our chapter this morning is a vision that He received from God and it is a classic picture of God’s ability to breathe new life into the spiritually dead.
AW Tozer is probably the premier author, pastor, spiritual leader and model Christian of the 20th century. Long before Max Lucado, Charles Swindoll or even Rick Warren were even a thought, AW Tozer was penning works that less than 100 years later are spiritual classics. He has been credited with nearly 100 books and booklets, the most famous of which is The Pursuit of God, but one of the most intriguing I think is called “Rut, Rot or Revival.”
It is in this book that Tozer makes the very bold statement, “What is the present condition of the evangelical church? The bulk of Christians are asleep.”
From there he begins a dialogue that takes a different route than what we are taking today, but his title does fit into our passage today.
Individual Christians as well as the Christian church are currently in one of three stages, and they are the ones who have a choice in which stage they are in.
Today I want to look at each of them, evaluate them, and after evaluating where we are as individuals and as a church…hopefully move forward to where God desires for us to be.
Let’s look at those 3 places now….
First of all;
We can choose to be in a rut In our text, this is the valley that is spoken of by Ezekiel. Read vs. 1.
We need to evaluate what is meant by a valley here.
Often when we consider a valley, we think of the plush and often very green area that can be found growing around the bottom of the mountain ranges…this is not the valley being spoken of in our passage.
The valley Ezekiel referring to is a valley as in Death Valley, CA. It is an area that is arid, no life, no growth, if anything…it is nothing short of death; hence the name of “Death Valley”.
For a believer and a church, the valley is called plateauing or can be found in the early stages of decline.
There is no forward progression, and for the believers and churches that are stuck in a rut…that is just fine, because in spite of the dire circumstances surrounding them, they can find contentment where they are. Think of it this way…in your vehicle, if you are in a rut you are stuck and just spinning your tires; getting no where fast.
ILLUS: You may not believe this, but there are people who find the arid conditions of a valley to be their cup of tea. They build a little house, they have all of their necessities, and they stay put because that is what they like and that is what they think they need. They have no companionship, modern conveniences are for other people, and if someone else doesn’t like it…tough, they can get over it.
My question is, are we as believers or we as a church much different?
Tozer himself addressed this by saying, “I say to you that the people in the religious rut are getting, older, but they are not getting any holier. Time, which they have trusted to be their friend, is betraying them and proving to be their enemy. Time is doing something else to them; it is increasing their indifference to spiritual things.”
Have you gotten comfortable in what God has, but not putting as much stock in what God is doing or what God is going to do.
This usually isn’t because of not seeing what God is doing, except that you can’t see much when you sleep. Keith Green wrote a song back in the 1970’s called “Asleep in the Light”, that speaks volumes today.
The world is sleeping in the dark, That the church can’t fight, cause it’s asleep in the light, How can you be so dead, when you’ve been so well fed, Jesus rose from the grave, and you, you can’t even get out of bed, Open up, open up, and give yourself away, You’ve seen the need, you hear the cry, so how can you delay, God’s calling and you’re the one, but like Jonah you run, He’s told you to speak, but you keep holding it in, Oh, can’t you see it’s such sin? How can you be so numb, not to care if they come, You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done, Don’t close your eyes…You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done.
We as Christians not only celebrate the resurrection of Christ but base our entire faith system around it…the single most important and greatest event in all of history. How has that changed your life? Does it make a difference to you each year as we remember the resurrection of Christ? Does it make a difference to you that when we come in here, we come in to join other believers as we enter into the presence of God? And does it make enough difference to you to take what you experienced here out into the world and share it with someone who doesn’t have the hope that you claim to have?
Depending on how you answered those questions, you may be in a rut…and depending on the collective answer of us a church, we too may be in a rut. Only one way to get out of a rut…you’ve got to will and work your way out of it. Are you in a rut? Are we as a church in a rut? Are you ready to get out of it?
So, first of all this morning, you can be in a rut, or… We can choose to rot
In our text, this is represented by the bones mentioned in vs. 2.
Why do I say rot in terms of the dry bones…because bones don’t just become bones. After death takes place, it takes time for the natural process of decay to take place…and what takes place prior to bones becoming simply bones can be described as rot. The key thing to remember here is this comes after death.
How does this affect us as Christians or as a church…
First: Joy is gone…no hope. ILLUS: Church bulletin error that reads, “Don’t let worry kill you – let the church help.” When people look at you, or when they look at this church do they see a group of believers whose lives have been changed by the grace of God and have been filled with His Holy Spirit? Or do they look at us and see an example of why they don’t want to have anything to do with that “Christian stuff”?
A distinguishing mark of the believer and of the church is joy…because it cannot be found anywhere else. When you look in the mirror of your soul…is there joy there? Look around here for a second…is there joy here? If not, then we are in need of revival.
Egocentric as opposed to exocentric…more concerned with self than with a lost and dying world. New Barna research says 2 out of 3 people are unchurched. Jesus did not stutter when He gave the great commission, His words were “go”…the “wait” message were for those believers who witnessed his ascension. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit…and when the Holy Spirit came, their mission began…it is found in Acts 1:8. Jesus didn’t say focus on yourselves, make sure you are doing ok, and hope that others see how “good” you are doing…but said, “Be my witnesses”…are we as believers being the witness that God has called us to be? Or we as a church focusing on our mission of reaching a lost world for Christ, or are we focusing on making sure every jot and tittle of our own lives are taken care of? New Barna research says less than half of the adults in the US attend church on a weekly basis, and 1/3 of all adults are totally unchurched…now take into consideration the fact that these numbers don’t include kids, and doesn’t specify if attendance is at an orthodox Bible teaching and believing church. With this factored into the equation…the number will probably double at the very least.
We can’t afford to be egocentric…the world can’t afford for us to be egocentric at a greater expense.
And the third sign of rot: Being Hearers and not doers. Bible teaching is important…we need to hear the Bible taught and preached. But if that is all we are doing, it doesn’t do anyone any good…especially you. We have a lot of Christians that have chosen to belly up to the spiritual buffet; and if the church doors are open…you know where they can find them. But sadly, that is pretty much the only time you can find them during the week. The rest of the time, they are enjoying what they ate, and looking forward to the next “meal”.
In a given week, most people have at least 3-4 hours they can commit to the church…if that is the case, here is the break down I would prefer:
- Hour of worship and preaching
- Hour of small group Bible study
- Hour of prayer, individual and corporate
- Hour of ministry
If we are taking in and taking in and taking in…it’s no different than eating non-stop without ever exercising. It’s not healthy for you because you are keeping what God is giving you to yourself. You suffer, and everyone else suffers because of your selfishness.
Are you giving as much as your are taking? Is the Word that you are hearing from God getting legs and making in an impact in someone else’s life? If not, you are simply hearing and not doing…and you are in need of revival.
We’ve look at two options, the option of being in a rut…not going anywhere and not doing any good, the option of being in rot…where if anything you are causing more harm than good, and that takes us to our last choice:
We can choose revival.
Charles Finney, the great preacher of the 2nd American Great Awakening said revival is, “a new beginning of obedience to God.” Revival can also be defined as “the restoration of God’s people after a period of indifference and decline.”
Revival first and foremost comes from God…it is an act that He performs for mans benefit, for His glory. All of mankind benefits because we are the ones who have relationships restored with Him, and the lost are brought into the fold. Revival is not just a yearly event we can and should have our church calendars…it is a time for us to call upon God, with humility and repentance, seeking God’s face and asking for Him to heal.
I’ll be honest…I need revival. And I think that if we are all honest, we would all say the same time…about ourselves and about this church.
Are we going to do something about it? Are you going to pray for revival? Are you going to repent of your sins, and seek restoration in relationships where needed (with God and with others)? Are you willing to let God do something in your life? You see, revival is up to God…He will bring revival in His own timing, but He won’t bring it to those who are not willing to seek it and ask for it. I’m ready, are you?
As I close, I am going to sit down and allow for a time of silent reflection. Our church, like so many other churches, may be in a rut and maybe has experienced rot. We all know that. The question I ask you this morning is how are you going to change that? How are you going to help the church get out of the rut? How are you going to help the church stop rotting? How are you going help the revival of the church? During our time of silent reflection, may your prayer be for guidance from God to lead you in the ministry of this church. Let’s pray for God to guide us and lead us. Let’s pray for God to guide and lead us individually and call us to ministry. It is not longer what someone else can do but what can I do. Let us quietly pray and reflect on God’s call.
I don’t usually publish the Church newsletter in my blog but here is a link to The Words of Grace 3.19. We have a struggle ahead of us to find an identity and a purpose and a direction. There are many challenges ahead of us but on the other hand, God’s will seems to have a purpose for the church and we need to work to find that purpose. I ask you to join in praying with and for us in the coming months.
I find myself looking towards the end of my current ministry and I should be happy because I have wanted it for sometime. Right? I am now not so sure. Yes, I am called to be an Army Chaplain, and yes I know the time to leave this ministry is near but I am worried (as usual) about how we will make ends meet. How are we going to pay bills when we are faced with a change in income due to a change in jobs.
Now that I have said that, I am going to pray that I will have the faith to stay the course and to trust God as God leads me from this ministry and in new directions. I need to trust God that this is in his plan and all things are happening according to his plan. I need to trust God.
Is it possible to be happy about leaving something and concerned at the same time? I will confess that I have looked forward to this day for sometime because of the stress and uncertainty of the current situation at the church. I have been ready to walk away several times because my blood pressure was going through the roof. Through it all, God has been calming me and guiding me and leading me towards the Army. As I sit here and reflect back on things, I realize this has been my path all along from the beginning. I realize that God has been moving me out of a church setting and beyond walls.
I preach stepping out on faith but is that really the case when it comes down to doing something on faith in my own life? I think I could if it was just me but now I have my family to worry about and how we are going to survive. I suppose tonight what I really covet is prayers as we look to begin the next phase of ministry.
|One of my random, thought-provoking
signs at Grace CPC
So what does this have to do with kindled hope you may ask. Good question. It seems that Grace CPC has some extra room upstairs that we do not use. It seems that Kathleen and My Own Backyard needs a small space to work out of and it seems that it is a divine match. I have long thought that the church needs to focus outside of the walls and to the greater community. As I mentioned in a blog yesterday, we can’t wait for people to come to us, we need to go to them.
Bring the full tithe and your time and your talents and your free space into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. –Malachi 3:10 (ESV) *italics my addition*
|The stained glass window
at Grace CPC
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” –Winnie the Pooh
“I called upon Your name, O Lord, out of the depths of the dungeon. You heard my voice: O hide not Your ear at my prayer for relief. You drew near on the day I called to You: You said, Fear not.” –Lamentations 3:55-56.
By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. –Hebrews 11:29-12:2 (ESV)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (ESV)
I was planning to attend tonight’s meeting of the Task Force in Columbia, however, it is my understanding that representatives from Grace CPC will be allowed to speak prior to the meeting and then asked to leave so the Task Force can meet. Since it is nearly an hour drive one way from my house, I am yet sure whether I will attend the meeting but I do wish to share my thoughts that I would have share with the Task Force.When Terry and I came on board nearly 2 years ago, we had a daunting task ahead of us. We were faced with a church that was struggling to survive, barely had 16 people during Sunday worship, and was dealing with deep wounds from the pastoral relationship of the previous pastor (no judgment intended just an observation). I will admit that on the Sunday night that we met and agreed to take on this challenge, I felt a great weight upon my shoulders. The last 3 months of 2008, Terry and I spent much of it getting used to each other. It was not unlike a marriage and simply figuring out each other’s quirks and habits. Since 2009, we have become a strong team who I believe has been leading the church forward along with our Session.All of that being said, I will honestly say that it was not until nearly a year later (October 2009), that the church really began to heal from its wounds and come together. I will use my wife, Lisa, as an example. She would come to church on the Sundays that I preached to support me but attended Tusculum CP Church on the other 3 to 4 Sundays of the month. It was her choice and I supported it. Her reasons for not attending Grace were simple: there was no one to watch Sophia (her argument was why would she come to church if she had to miss it because of watching our daughter) and the church was not united as a church. She began to notice that this changed towards the end of last year and it has. The church has become more united and really has bonded as a church. I take this as a sign that wounds have healed and the church is moving forward.I am aware that the church has not reached the numbers expect under the current re-development plan. I would like to point out that we have doubled our attendance on average each month. I know we have a long way to go but we are also providing outstanding ministries to the greater community. My view of these ministries is simply that the church’s name and reputation are increasing in the community. I am sure that local folks are aware that Grace has had some troubles in the past and we are overcoming that view in the community as well. In the past year, we have worked with the American Red Cross and several other neighboring churches to sponsor and host blood drives that are helping 50 to 60 people. We are hosting a Slavic Baptist Church. We host several Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops as well as a Girl Scout Day Camp (and we welcomed the Day Camp with open arms and they were greatly appreciative). The argument could be made that these ministries are not growing the church but I would disagree. Our reputation and our name is growing in the community and I believe this is going to lead to growth in the future.In addition to the above ministries beginning in September, we are going to sponsor and host a monthly Community Education Series (click on the link to see the flier being distributed around the community) with the intention of providing yet another unique ministry to the community.I personally believe the mission of Grace CPC is unique to other CP Churches. I believe that Grace is going to be an ecumenical ministry to the greater community and a church that is willing to provide new ministries to the community. In an age when people do not wish to be involved with denominations or simply are not deeply connected to denominations as their parents or grandparents were, we have to do things differently and look at the world differently. I would ask that the Columbia Presbytery and the CP Denomination consider this idea as they look at the future of Grace. Because Grace is under re-development and because Grace is in a unique situation, this is an opportunity to explore new ministries and new directions with this church. I strongly believe this is the future of Grace. We have an opportunity to cross denominational lines and be a vital ministry of the CP Church to the greater community in new and exciting ways. We have already started with some of these new ministries and there are more to come, if we have the chance.Finally, I would like to address the questions regarding the military chaplaincy. I am aware that this came up in the previous meeting that I was unable to attend. Larry, I have had conversations with George, with Terry, and with the Session in regard to my exploration of the chaplaincy so I want to share this with you (and with the Task Force as well). First, this exploration has NOTHING to do with Grace and should not be considered nor regarded as a reflection on Grace. I have been blessed and enriched by my time at Grace and I am deeply appreciative of the opportunities, the tolerance, and the guidance of Terry, the Session, and the congregation over the past 2 years. I can honestly say that I have never felt that my calling to ministry was to be a pastor (and my Profile of Ministry from my first semester at MTS will support this) but rather to serve in a role similar to a chaplain. The idea of serving as a military chaplain was planted in my mind prior to seminary and has never fully let go. I have prayed about it, talked about it with my wife, and talked about with Pat Pickett and Kip Rush from the Nashville Presbytery Committee on the Preparation for the Ministry. After prayerfully considering it, I have decided that I needed to move forward and explore the call. I know the question arose about how serious I am in moving in this direction. At the celebration day at the Birthplace Shrine, I interviewed with Charles McCaskey for an endorsement from the PCCMP and I have completed my application to the Army. I have also lost over 40 pounds in preparation for this ministry. I am very serious about moving in this direction but again it has nothing to do with Grace. If anything my time at Grace has reinforced that I am not meant to serve God as a pastor (but not in a bad way). God is calling me in this direction and my talents and my gifts in ministry are suited to serve as a chaplain.I would ask that the Task Force strongly consider continuing to support the ministry of Grace for several years forward. I would ask that the Task Force provide funds for a transition period so that the Session can begin a search for a new pastor while the ministry team is in place so the Session can focus on finding a pastor without the additional burden of continuing the ministry of the church. I would ask that the Task Force strongly consider a specific period of support following the hiring of a full-time pastor so that the pastor can be free to focus on growing the church without the worries of support.I respectfully ask that these thoughts be shared tonight at the meeting and if there is a desire to have me speak at the meeting, I will gladly come and attend the meeting. I believe the greatest ministry of Grace CPC is yet to come.