The following are excerpts from my final blessing over the finest congregation a pastor could ever hope to minister before…Beloved, it’s been a swell gig…(thank You, Lord)…
Seventeen years ago today, I began my pastoral ministry in Douglas County. I was 31 years young, with great ambition and vision. Some thought I was foolish to end a road ministry that was quite successful and pass into obscurity in the small town of Douglasville, Georgia. But the litmus test of success in God’s economy is not position but obedience and Sandy and I both knew God was calling us to a more localized ministry where we could invest our lives in a particular group of people for a prolonged period of time. The starry twinkle in my eyes forecasted I would see a church of hundreds emerge over a span of a few years and then, after 10 years, I would resume life out on the road.
But God said, “Not so fast, big boy.”
I soon discovered I was not in Douglasville to build a church so much as I was put here so God could “build the man.”
When God wants to drill a man, and thrill a man, and skill a man
When God want to mold a man to play the noblest part
When He years with all His heart to create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall praise
Watch His methods, watch His ways
How He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally selects
How He hammers him and hurts him
And with mighty blows converts him into frail shapes of clay which only God understands
How his tortured heart is crying and he lifts beseeching hands
How he bends but never breaks when God’s good he understands
How He uses whom He chooses
And with every purpose fuses him
And by every act induces him to try His splendor out
God knows what He’s about!
When God wants to take a man and shake a man and wake a man…
When God wants to make a man to do the future’s will;
He tries with all His skill…
When He yearns with all His soul to create him large and whole…
With what cunning He prepares him…
How He goads and never spares him! How He whets him and He frets him and in poverty begets him…
How often He disappoints whom He sacredly anoints!
With what wisdom He will hide him;
Never minding what betide him…
Though his genius sob with slighting and his pride may not forget;
Bids him struggle harder yet!
Makes him lonely so that only God’s high messages shall reach him…
So that He may surely teach him what the hierarchy planned;
And though he may not understand…
Gives him passions to command.
How remorselessly He spurs him…
With terrific ardour stirs him
When He poignantly prefers him.
When God wants to name a man and fame a man and tame a man…
When God wants to shame a man to do His Heavenly best;
When He tries the highest test that His reckoning may bring…
When He wants a god or king;
How He reins him and restrains him so his body scarce contains him…
While He fires him and inspires him…
Keeps him yearning, ever burning for that tantalizing goal.
Lures and lacerates his soul…
Sets a challenge for his spirit;
Draws it highest then he’s near it!
Makes a jungle that he clear it;
Makes a desert that he fear it…and subdue it, if he can –
So doth God make a man!
Then to test his spirit’s wrath, Throw a mountain in his path;
Puts a bitter choice before him and relentlessly stands o’er him…
Climb or perish, so He says…
But, watch His purpose, watch His ways.
God’s plan is wondrous kind – could we understand His mind?
Fools are they who call His blind!
When his feet are torn and bleeding;
Yet his spirit mounts unheeding…
Blazing newer paths and finds;
When the Force that is Divine leaps to challenge every failure,
And His ardour still is sweet –
And love and hope are burning in the presence of defeat!
Lo the crisis, Lo the shouts that would call the leader out…
When the people need salvation doth he rise to lead the nation;
Then doth God show His plan…
And the world has found a man!
God was gracious to add seven more years to my ten to finish the work and on April 10 of this year, I heard Him say “Your work here is finished.” Somewhere along the journey we’ve managed to make ready for the Lord a core of people prepared for His coming, yes, but there has been a long and lasting work done in my wife and me. We are not the same people we were 17 years ago. Character has deepened. Faith has been strengthened. A life of more “apartness” and “otherness” is being realized compared to when we first began this journey.
For those who know us best, the past few years have been some of the hardest of our ministry lives, beginning in 2002. Pressures from within and without, destructive forces working against us, loss of hope, sleepless nights, tears seemingly without end. Perhaps the most difficult years, yes, but we stand before you with the testimony that they have been necessary and we have learned to Praise Him in the Storm.
Eleven summers ago, I was put before a congregation who wondered together: “Where do we go from here?” The lead pastor had stepped down and a shaky, uncertain man was suddenly thrust into the position and there were questions and concerns aplenty. But there was a lot of excitement too! We hammered the matter out one evening at a member family’s home and said we would focus on the things that were important to Jesus when He walked the earth. He grew UPWARDLY, INWARDLY, OUTWARDLY and DOWNWARDLY. “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and with man.” This was His Life. He lived by His Father’s Rhema Word, by growing in Intimacy with His Father, by making Fishers of men, and by making Himself low before others that they would be brought nigh and high to the Father.
That seminal meeting turned into a night of deep introspection. “WHO IS ‘IN’?” was the cry of the core. It was also a time of unfettered consecration. All were humbling themselves before one another, confessing sin to one another, bearing one another’s burdens. It was the circumcision of a church intent on moving forward, away from its past, leaving those things that were behind, and reaching forward to a new day.
The same amount of people that are gathered today equals the number that confessed to “being ‘in’” on that first Sunday as we started out eleven years ago. From that, some people might say, “You haven’t gone anywhere!” “You haven’t grown at all!” and they’d be dead wrong. God has taken us places! He has stretched us and pulled us even more when we felt as though there was no elasticity left in us. The growth has been down into the ploughed-up soil of the Sower’s field and what is coming up is a richer harvest, sprouts shooting up from the Root and Stump of Jesse. We have not built new buildings, but we have been building our lives on the Rock, which Jesus defines as hearing and obeying the Gospel of the Kingdom!
Today, your lead pastor is stepping down and a shaky uncertain man is being called to lead the flock of God at New River. He doesn’t have to wonder “Where do we go from here?” and neither do you. The vision has been clearly laid out and the first steps OUTSIDE THE CAMP are marked and waiting. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. The cost has not been reduced. There are enemies encamped in “them thar hills” you have not yet encountered. There are fortresses that will rise before you that will take your breath away. But in God’s economy, great giants fall with a single stone and walls collapse without touching them. Five soldiers can rout a hundred and a hundred can put to flight ten thousand.
As long as you do it God’s way, remembering that…
It takes OVERCOMING FAITH. (John 11)
It takes EXTRAVAGANT SURRENDER AND SACRIFICE. (John 12)
It takes a HIGHER LOVE. (John 13)
Finally, my brothers and sisters, I wish to conclude with some scriptural admonition. If these are the last words I speak before this congregation, I believe they sum up the burden and blessing of my heart over you:
1Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
(1 Thess 4:1,2)
12We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil.
23Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
25Brothers, pray for us.
26Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
27I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(1 Thess 5:12-28)
11To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Thess 1:11,12)
15So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
(2 Thess 2:15)
1Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
(2 Thess 3:1-5)
As the days and months pass, perhaps even years, I will make this my constant prayer for you:
2Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. 4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
(3 John vv2-4)
Yes and Amen.
As for Sandy and me, we are not going gently into that good night. The Lord has a call on us and we are eager to meet it, whatever it is. If you ever have to step down from the pastorate, you want to do it this way, loved to the very end, not forced out or in bitter annoyance with each other, not parting because of overstayed welcome. (Sadly, wild and unkind rumors have been spread in this regard, and if they weren’t so tragic, we could all have a great laugh over them!) We’ve come to this day simply because God has revealed it is time. My “Hebron” days have come to a close and Jerusalem awaits. And for you, Joshua waits to take you in. And I wouldn’t stand in the way of that for anything!