And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:3-6)

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. (Psalm 69:6)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Thoughts Within an Empty Office, the Last Days of a Ministry in Transition

In approximately one day I will complete my last sermon at Holiday Shores Baptist after eleven years.  The turning of the calendar over and again in this mission field has had a profound effect upon my heart and mind.  My thoughts not only look to the time spent here, nor the times I have spent with many people in their sorrows and triumphs, but the weathering of my edifice, the changing of who I am.

Eleven years is a long time to be somewhere. I have been impressed by sources and hearsay that the average pastor in SBC life stays at a church less than three years.  Many coming out of seminary today will not last five years before quitting ministry all together.  I thank God for calming the storms of ministry in order to keep me active.  Honestly, there have been times I wanted to quit.  But the fear of shame before God was greater than the troubles of the day.  The grace of God was greater still. Thus, when I was sinking as Peter did when walking on the water, I too needed His hand to hold me.  Thus, Persevering Pastor was born.  It has been a means for reflection upon the sufficiency of Christ and the need to encourage other ministers to finish the course to run the race.

So I am quite thankful for the shaping of eleven years here.  It has done me well.  There are many many things I would do differently had my son completed his time machine for me to get a “do over.”  Yet, there are many things I would not change, such as my encounters with people.

The times I have spent with people have been weighty.  For years I have taught apologetics to the youth.  We have covered the six days of biblical creation, worldviews, various religions, and practical application of the scriptures to life as opposed to worldly philosophy.  I still believe this has great benefit and thankfully have the testimonies to prove it.  But I look on the faces that I am leaving and am nostalgic.  Some of these I once held as babies or toddlers in the nursery.  Several have spent the night at our house as guests of our children.  Many numbers are basically adopted family.  There is the potential for greatness in each of these.  In just days, two or three will move off to college as others have.  Fortunately, most who have come through our youth group continue to walk with Christ after they leave the nest, I consider this a success.  In my reflections I see that I will miss out on many milestones. I wish to see them wed and begin families of their own, to continue to live lives to the glory of God.

Another group I have been greatly endeared to is our senior adults.  We call them the JOY group, Just Older Youth.  These folks have been great bastions of prayer.  I have buried their mates, held hands in sorrow, and fixed computer problems they did not understand.  I thank the Lord that in these last two years we began a mid-week morning Bible study.  In this time the Lord has given me an opportunity to bring the comfort of the Gospel to them in their winter years.  Walking with these saints in their rapidly changing lives has opened my eyes to the uncertainties that face them.  Often, they have been gripped by the sorrow of loneliness, even in a crowd.   Their fears have been real, they have trembled at the changing world and have knelt upon aged knees to pray for the family they expect to one day leave behind.  Senior saints are a treasure to the church.  We must not forget them.

As I reflect further on the youth, I consider what my life could have been had I only known at 15 what I know now.  I wish I had understood the gospel more clearly.  I weep over my sin. I long to help the youth of today to flee from the mistakes that I have made that are the course of which they are heading.

When I look at my life ebbing towards senior adulthood, I am impassioned to finish well for my Lord.  Paul was right, run the race for the prize and do not be ensnared with worldly pursuits.  Only Christ matters.

Thus I think of how these eleven years have refined, eroded, and softened the granite of who I am.  In ministry you are often solitary.  In a small church this is a significant aspect of your life.  Though HSBC has been a relatively trouble free church I has led me down paths of experience for my betterment.  It has afforded me an opportunity to gain an education and certification in biblical counseling.  The mission field has led me to gain much from the likes of Bob Gailbraith who taught me you could disagree and yet love one another greatly; Helen Hunt, who at 99 continued to bring the best out of situations; and Dolly Swilly who evangelized everyone in her nursing home.  These people have been great teachers by the lives they lived. 

Other refiners have been fellow pastors in the area, Dave Tyler, Craig Wurst, Chip Faulkner, Richard Newcomb, Ron Wenzel, and Gene Spurgeon.  These men have shared their heart and passion and have often brought me great encouragement.

And then there are the members of HSBC that I leave behind. I do not have space not the mental capacity to name them all, but several exemplified aspects of Jesus that I have been forever shaped by.  Ocie, and his passion for worship.  Indira for wisdom.  Evie for compassion.  Ralph and Lisa for the foundation of the Bible in application.  Fred for being quick to listen, slow to speak.  Marcia for relying upon God.  Greg for his enjoyment of God on the business end of a fishing pole. Sid for prayer and holiness.  Doris for faith.  Norma for trusting God for answers.  Ruth B for her thinking always of others despite her own troubles.  Ruth S as she left behind tradition to run to the truth of Christ.  Quinn for her resistance to the world’s influences.  Dave and Robin for the optimism they radiate, and faithful service.  Andrew and Sarah for the way in which they look ahead and choose what is right.  Eddie and Wanda, as they bear others burdens.  Over and again I could find several things to say about everyone.  But this period of my life has left me better.  I have been changed for the good.

HSBC will be a fond and fair memory.  The church in the cornfield has done me good.  I have lived here longer than any place else in my life and though I have a new hometown, my heart will always love these saints.

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