One year ago on March 30th, it was a Sunday and I stood before the congregation in Mount Pleasant and delivered my last sermon as their full-time minister. The road from that day until now has been amazing. There have been three jobs after leaving Mount Pleasant and even the great question of whether or not I would return to full time ministry again. It was a long, bumpy and rewarding road.
Today, I reflect on these words and I share them with you. As you read them you will see that I borrowed and adapted from one of the greatest speakers of our time. These words are some of my favorite I have spoken because the thoughts of my heart flowed through the pages as I wrote each word. If you would like, take a moment and see what you think.
The words are many, but so are the meanings.
My brothers and sisters,
This will be approximately the 1,153rd time I’ll speak to you from this position, and the last. We’ve been together for 8 and ½ years now and now, it is time for me to go. But before I do, I wanted to share some thoughts, some of which I have been saving for a long time.
It’s been my honor to serve as your minister; the first full-time minister of this congregation. Many of you have shared your thoughts in the past few weeks to say “thank you”, but I could say the same of you. Carrie, Alexis, Emma, Caleb and I are grateful for the opportunity you gave us to serve.
One of the things about ministry is things go by so fast. You spend a lot of time in between Sundays. A minister’s job is never clearly seen. Most see you just on a Sunday and very few will see you during the week. The few, think they are left out, but truthfully, they are blessed. If you do not see a preacher coming, realize there are others who needed to see him more.
To some, we spent nights awake talking, crying and being frustrated together. Others, we spent time in the hospital talking over food sitting on a tray that made the tray look better than the food. Still others, we talked. We talked about things this world will never know, because you had a simple trust in me. You allowed me into your life and trusted me to help you out.
Those are the times no one sees, and some still question.
People ask how I feel about leaving and the fact is, “parting is such sweet sorrow.” The sweet part is the next chapter in the journey of our lives and the sorrow — the sorrow is the goodbyes.
The goodbyes are hard because this is the congregation my children have really known. When the congregation decided to take a chance on a 31 year old minister, Alexis was 5 and Emma was 2. Caleb was not even in the picture yet. Many of you are our family. To my children, some of you have adopted them as grandchildren and they think of you as additional grandparents. You are the ones they prayer for at night as they lay in their beds. I have heard the words – the sincere words of innocent children as your names are lifted be them to the Almighty God.
Our family grew here. This is the congregation that will be the one which settles in the heart of our children. This is the congregation, along with the pounding surf of the ocean and allowed me the everlasting opportunity to baptize Alexis into Christ.
From the morning ritual at the Holiday Inn to the ritual in this building, we have seen members come and go. Some have moved onto greater things in different places and two have moved one to their eternal rest. It is our goal to cross over from this life to meet them there.
As we came here, with nothing but open hands, we will leave, after paying a small loan back to the congregation, with nothing but open hands. Ready and willing for the next opportunity to serve the Lord, our God.
In the past 8 and ½ years, it has been my goal to push and challenge you to fill a greater purpose. The status quo of Christianity is not built on a Sunday morning pew, but on the actions of a loving Son. It was the challenge of the Savior that caused 12 ordinary men to change the world, through a simple message preached. It is the duty of every man, every eternal wanting man, to hear the message and make the response from a sincere heart. Without the sincerity of heart, it is just an emotionless action. But see a man with a pierced heart, and you will see a changed man, willing to take the cause of Christ to anyone, everyone and leaving no one behind.
This is where our passion must reside. The message of the gospel, is only found in the words that God breathed into existence. Without the Creator’s words, there is no road map and no hope for the created. You and I possess that road map, that lamp to our feet and the light to our path – it is not hidden through the ages anymore, but it is held in our hands to be read, studied and diligently placed into action.
Our faith, left in our minds alone, yield nothing. But faith put forth on the world’s stage means salvation to anyone ready, willing and searching. The way is narrow, the burden is light and the Savior is waiting. It is to this end, Christians live. It is to this end that Christians strive to find the unity found in the Savior, not in the world.
The journey we have traveled has been one to strengthen our faith and magnify our light. The light of the city set on a hill shines for all to see and all to realize the light does not go out, but it glows brighter day by day. For us, our light will only shine as bright as our faith will allow.
This was the challenge. The challenge to see how bright out faith will shine amid the busyness, the temptations and the desires of the flesh.
The challenge for our faith is clear and the battle wages one. Through the days of good, the battle is waging, when the days are bad, the battles still rages on. No matter the greatness of yesterday, the hope of the future home in the Lord is our power and our strength.
There is power in the gospel….because it is the saving grace of our lives. The evidence that Christ took on death, laid in a grave, then broke free from the pain of death to walk, talk and clearly speak before rising into the clouds is the message we teach, preach and live by. There is no greater message than that of Christ.
For over 8 years we have fought side by side in the fields around us. We have won some battles and lost a few others. The battle is not over. We still find ourselves clothed in Christ and clothed in the full armor of God and we walk through the world, knowing that some will follow and some will fight….but we wage on.
The unity of faith, the faith we strive for is the same which was delivered once for all time. It is this same unity for which our Lord prayed that night. The unity that all men who come to Him, believe in Him and follow Him completely.
I have been asked if I have any regrets. Well, I do. There have been those lost to the world. I have been thinking a great deal about that lately, but there is only so much one can do. The final choice is in the eyes of man. God knows we have tried. We have reached, offered our lives and even offered to leave. It is always our goal to strengthen the saved, but more than that – to save the lost.
Some say a minister’s job is best left un-said, and I have to agree. There is a great tradition of warnings in ministry farewells, and I’ve got one that’s been on my mind for some time. But oddly enough it started with one in of the things I am proudest of in the past eight years; the challenge of better living based on putting knowledge of Christi into the daily lives. The feeling is good, but it won’t count for much, and it won’t last unless it’s grounded in knowledge and action.
An informed Christian is what we want. And are we doing a good job teaching our children about the church and what the church has represented in the short history of the world? Those of us over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different time. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be a Christian. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love for the church and an appreciation of its heritage in our lives.
You could see it in our fellowship and hear it in our voices. You saw it, not only on Sundays, but in Bible studies and gathering throughout the week. It was part of our personal culture and our future. You could see it in the people around you.
Families celebrated “Christian values” as did the culture. Prayers before meals, before games and even before bed. God was not a name to be overlooked but THE name to be honored.
But now, we are about to enter a changing time and some things have already changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation for the one church is the right thing to teach our modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded religion is no longer the style. I believe our spirit is back, but we haven’t achieved it all yet. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that the church is freedom – freedom from the shackles of sin. And freedom is special and rare. It is fragile and it needs protection and prayer for guidance.
So, we’ve got to teach Christ based not on what’s fashion but what’s important – why Abraham matters, who Paul was and what those 3 days in the tomb meant. You know, Easter is a few short weeks away and the thoughts of many will turn to the resurrection again. When those disciples made it to the tomb, they heard the word of the angel, “He is not here. He is risen.”
Well, let’s start saying those words. If we forget what He did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of the eradication of the Christian mind that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the Christian mind. Let’s start with some basics: more attention on Bible reading and a great emphasis on our Christian duty.
And let me offer lesson number one about Christianity. All great change in the world begins at the dinner table. So, tonight in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parent’s haven’t been teaching you what it means to be a Christian, let them know and nail them on it. That would be a very Biblical thing to do.
And that’s about all I have to say this morning, except for one thing. The past few days I have thought about that shining city on a hill. The phrase comes from Matthew 5 who recorded the words of Christ on the mount. What He saw was important because He saw His followers being the light – the light of freedom for generations. He came here by what we call the virgin birth and was looking for the time to sacrifice Himself for all of mankind.
In my mind, that shining city on a hill, provides the message of freedom. In my mind it is a bright city built on a foundation on the rock which the floods do not destroy. It is a God-blessed city and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace – a city of freedom.
The city has walls, but the door is always open to anyone with the willingness and the heart to get there. Just listen to Him and you can be there too. That’s how I saw it and see it still.
And how stands more the church? I pray it is more prosperous, more generous and more alive in Christ that it was eight years ago. But more than that; after almost 2,000 years, she still stands strong and true on the granite rock and she was withstood every storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the weary from all lost places who are hurtling through darkness toward home.
I feel I have done my part. And as I walk off into the next chapter of our lives, our faith, hope and trust is in the power of the Lord and the strength of His might.
My friends, keep doing it.
We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made our lives, and others, stronger we made many freer and now we leave in to good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.
And so, goodbye, God bless you and God guide his children.
As I read those words several times today, I read then as a minister who took approximately 8 months off from full-time ministry because I needed it; my family needed it. Today, I am back in the pulpit again and more resolved than ever to share the message of Christ, the only way, to a troubled world.
Thank you for being a part of this journey with me.
Just my thoughts,