Saying Goodbye – Pt2

Letting a group of men that I had served with for almost 9 years know that we weren’t on the same page at all anymore was tough. It didn’t speak to my love for them, which makes it even harder. If I didn’t like them, it would be easy…real easy. But I did and still do. But sometimes an impasse is an impasse, and different philosophies of how basic things should happen, and what priorities should be become so radically different that you have to admit that it is best to part ways and then continue on your own pathways.

IMG_0574As Christians, this is doubly difficult because our goal is supposed to be the same: bring glory to God and honor Christ by making disciples that make disciples. God is honored when we bear much fruit for Him. How different can that pursuit be? The simple and correct answer is that it shouldn’t be difficult. The banner of Jesus Christ is something we should rally under and leave our differences aside. But even Paul & Barnabas took different pathways after a time (Acts 15) because of a sharp disagreement, and they still loved each other through it. So, this is the pathway we took, too, even if it wasn’t the one anyone had originally intended.

As I said in my last post, I didn’t want to drag this out. It wasn’t right to make a big to-do over this, and I didn’t want to create ‘camps’ within the church after I was gone. No good would come from that. So, I told the elders my plan, that I would announce my departure the following Sunday, preach again the Sunday after that and then fade out quickly. I had committed to a small group of men that I had begun discipling that we would finish out a certain amount of time on Wednesday nights, and that would be my goodbye.

There are a lot of things that can happen as you walk through this process. Things you thought might happen, and other things you didn’t even think about or imagine. Everyone’s experience in this pathway will be different, but one thing matters most: we keep our eyes on Christ. There’s a way in which this feels like a break-up or even a divorce. It hurts, but you still love people. There are mixed feelings, difficult conversations…people do take sides.

I could share details, but it’s better not to go down that road. No one gains anything, and you have to wonder what the end game is or even could be in pointing fingers, shifting blame. When you come to this point and place, there’s always a shared experience that leads to it. Unless incredible circumstances have led to this, this is a shared experience for everyone in leadership, and only hindsight leaves you with any advantage.

There are countless resources, articles and organizations that exist for the sake of pointing churches into healthy, growing habits and practices. (I have several listed & linked below.) But everyone must be on board for these changes to take place. The whole leadership team must be of one mind, bought in and invested for a long haul operation if we are to chip away the decades of bad practices, unbiblical thoughts and self-centered ideologies that are encountered with most church revitalization projects. After all, the church isn’t a business, but people. The church is people, the Bride of Christ, and she must be loved, led and guided into correct practice. This is a fragile time, and tugging in multiple directions simply causes chaos.

We had been through a review by an external organization meant to help us find that direction. I had been working with a coach, going step by step with what he encouraged. But when it comes down to it, everyone must want healing enough to pursue it, the new vision for what God wants to do must be compelling enough within them, that they own it wholesale. This time, that didn’t happen. God had put something big on my heart, an intergenerational, multi-ethnic congregation that truly represented the neighborhood she served. It was a big change, it would have been beautiful. But, not quite yet. Not here.

So, on Sunday, I did my best to put on a good face, I recused myself before the service. I came out to preach, and with God’s help, I made it through my short sermon on unity in Christ, preplanned for this Sunday six months before., it was very appropriate. During invitation, I had arranged for my parents and family to leave the room. There was no way I could look them in the face while I read my letter. I couldn’t have completed it. After invitation, I stepped back up to the platform, and invited the elders up to join me.

The rest, as they say, is history. I read my letter. I prayed over the elders & congregation. I cried. There were gasps and tears from the congregation. I told them my exit strategy and that I still loved them. The people who weren’t in my ‘camp’ (I hate making divisions like this, “I am for Apollos, I am for Paul.”…it’s nonsense) left without saying anything else to me. That was fine, it wasn’t my concern at that point, and it was a small number of people. There were lots of hugs, words of care and support from the rest and people asking where we were going…and I honestly couldn’t answer that one yet.
I just knew it wasn’t local. We had been called out, away from home.

I was emotionally exhausted, physically spent.
I wanted nothing but to sleep for a couple of days.
I had tried my hardest to keep human, petty nastiness out of the mix, so that even in this difficulty, God would be honored and the baby Christians among us wouldn’t be soured or turned away. I wanted this to feel as ‘natural’ and as ‘painless’ as it could.

I honestly can’t tell you specifically what happened the next week. I know I worked on my last sermon, and that I spent time confiding in ministry friends and prepping for CPAC (Church Planters Assessment Center) in North Carolina. Other than that, it’s a blur. On Sunday, I came in, talked about God hitting the restart on Abraham’s life by calling him out (a topic chosen 6 months before but suddenly very appropriate) to a place he did not know, and how faith was his vehicle for his next steps. (I’ll write sometime about prepping and study for long term sermon planning. It’s super effective.)

It was another short sermon. I fought tears the whole time. At the end, I prayed the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6 over the congregation and we closed with the Lord’s Prayer as we did every week as an affirmation of our unity in Him. I didn’t make it through this last part, my voice left me, & where I couldn’t continue, the congregation did. They all surrounded me as we wept and prayed. It was beautiful and painful, terrible and cathartic all at once. But it was done. My big goodbye was over…ish.

I spent the following weeks on Wednesday nights discipling my guys, trying to give them a stronger foundation and attempting to hand over a group of willing men to one of the elders to continue the effort. After the agreed upon time was over, I was gone. I had stopped attending on Sunday mornings, and we began going to another church in town with some very good, long time friends. I’ll post more on this later.

In mid-March, we came back for a lunch after church for a formal good-bye and thank you from the elders. I didn’t want to go, I wasn’t in a good enough place to do it, but I knew there were people who needed time to process and then say their good-byes. Our last name was misspelled on the good-bye cake. (It’s an honest mistake for the store to make, my last name is unusual.)

I just had to laugh.

Our healing was coming.

Resources:
Thom Rainer gives 7 quick reasons when leaving is okay
Focus On The Family’s Counseling Referral Service
Chris Maxwell speaks into Pastor’s receiving counseling
Karl Vaters gives 7 reasons when transition is right

Check your church culture out,:
Healthy Growing Churches
The Covenant Group
Natural Church Development
Emotionally & Spiritually Healthy Church

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What a Good Memory

What’s your favorite memory?
Do have a place or time that you enjoy thinking about, mentally revisiting? What is the first Christmas you remember? What’s the earliest birthday party that you can recall the in detail? Who has moved away or passed on and you find comfort in revisiting memories from your time with them? What memories bring you the deepest joy or stir your heart the most? Whether it’s your wedding day, the day you child was born, or the day you discovered the grace that God has for you, there are so many good memories that God has provided for us.

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Listen to David, stirred to remember the goodness of God, and put yourself in his shoes. Let your heart remember with his.

Psalm 105
1Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

God is good all the time. Remember that, okay? Whatever happened today, whoever gave you that sideways ‘complement’ the other day, whoever let you down…no matter what came about, God is good. That never changes. People can make dumb choices, have bad attitudes or completely forgot that they promised you they would do something…and that doesn’t change the fact that God has you, loves you and is providing for your tomorrow.

Human circumstances have nothing to do with how good God is, how consistent He is, how loving He is or how awesome He is…and He loves you.

Seeking Peace Along a Hard Road

Blessed Father, we desire to break bread with You, to walk with You & enjoy Your company. Make our hearts burn within us as we meet with You, unfolding Your Word in our hearts. Help us to see, hear & gain wisdom. Prepare us for the difficulties & joys of the day, so we may rely on You & give You glory no matter what may come. We seek You out for these blessings of faith & for the sake of Your glory being shown through us.
We pray this in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 24: 13-35
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I long for these moments & experiences. As Christians, we long for the Lord’s presence, we desire to walk with Him, listen to Him & experience what these two experienced along the road to Emmaus. There is no greater joy than to be able to give our whole selves over to the will & mystery of the Lord, to be bundled up in His arms & to close out every sound but the sweetness of His voice. Swift & powerful, His tongue comforts & convicts, He cuts to the root of our sin & draws us up into the highest heaven. It is almost indescribable. But we long for these moments. We want every weekend worship gathering to be a place where we meet with Him like this, every moment spent in the Word like this, every encounter with a stranger, friend or family member like this when we share our faith with them.

But we must also be reminded of these two on the road. They were consumed, troubled & sad. They had expectations, desires for redemption & they wanted to see God’s hand move in a mighty & powerful way. And it took Jesus’ presence to bring them comfort. His Words, His presence, His laughter, teaching & prayer to open their eyes to what God had done & was continuing to do.

If we would feel His presence, then we must draw near & listen. We must hear what He says, and leave behind what fills our mind, giving it all over to Him in these moments where we need to draw near. While Jesus spoke, they were silent. They listened. They didn’t interrupt every third word, they weren’t engrossed in another activity. Their focus was undivided & therefore laser focused on everything He had to say. It was time spent just with Jesus. Unrushed, untouched, unadulterated. Just them & just Him.

If we want to feel the comforting presence of Jesus, then we need to give Him our attention. We need to listen & remove distractions. If we are broken & hurting inside, if life’s events are too much to handle & understand, then we need to trust Him with those moments & draw near to Him & Him alone.

Praise God for His Holy Spirit who can & does walk with us, even within us, through these moments of our day-to-day life. What a precious gift to know He is with us, moving, present & speaking to us. We simply need to seek Him out for peace & be still, trusting in His footsteps along the way.

Father, we bless Your holy Name! We praise the movement of Your Word in our hearts!
Teach us to listen & be still. remind us of Your presence & may we feel that sweet stillness in our spirits as we draw near to You along life’s road. Again, we pray in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Psalm 119:81-88 // כ Kaf // When it feels like you have nothing left

“81 I long for Your salvation;

I put my hope in Your word.

82 My eyes grow weary

looking for what You have promised;

I ask, “When will You comfort me?”

83 Though I have become like a wineskin dried by smoke,

I do not forget Your statutes.

84 How many days must Your servant wait?

When will You execute judgment on my persecutors?

85 The arrogant have dug pits for me;

they violate Your instruction.

86 All Your commands are true;

people persecute me with lies — help me!

87 They almost ended my life on earth,

but I did not abandon Your precepts.

88 Give me life in accordance with Your faithful love,

and I will obey the decree You have spoken.”

Psalm 119:81-88

A smoke dried wineskin is brittle and past its usefulness. David is feeling spent and useless, ready to break. We all experience times like this, where we don’t feel like we have anything left in us. One more hit will shatter us. DAvid feels the weight of the world pressing down on his shoulders, he longs for the intervention of God. 

I often tell people that there is great value in getting familiar with the psalms because David is very expressive about the things he is experienceing, and his reliance on God is our example for what we should do as well when (not if) we experience similar situations.

Re-read this portion of Psalm 119 again. Listen to David’s heart and think through times in your life that felt similar. 

Read it a third time, and think about what God has done to help rescue you.

Read it a fourth time, and give God praise for His faithful love! 

  

Mark 14:32-42 // The Oil Press of Sorrow

“32 Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and horrified. 34 Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow — to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” 35 Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. 36 And He said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

37 Then He came and found them sleeping. Simon, are you sleeping? He asked Peter. “Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? 38 Stay awake and pray so that you wont enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Once again He went away and prayed, saying the same thing. 40 And He came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open. They did not know what to say to Him. 41 Then He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The time has come. Look, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up; lets go! See — My betrayer is near.”

Mark 14:32-42

I’m not sure how much the phrase is used anymore, but to say someone has ‘been through the wringer’ is the closest idiom that we have for what Jesus is experiencing here in the garden. Gethsemane literally means “the oil press” and is a fitting place name considering where Jesus’ heart is in these last moments leading up to His arrest.

This week preceding the crucifixion is often called ‘Passion Week’ because of the intensity of what is going on and because of the deep-rooted love of God that compelled Jesus to do what He did. This time in the garden was that eternity that stretches out before us when we are confronted with the combination of time and dread. 

The effect of depression on the mind and body should not be quickly discounted. The emotional strain it brings on cannot be accurately described with words. Luke, in his account, contains these words (some mms omit them) that show us where Jesus’ was in these minutes preceding the arrival of Judas and the temple guard, 

“43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke 22:43-44

The word ‘anguish’ signifies His mental/emotional state. Mark used the word ‘horrified,’ the strongest of the three NT words for depression to explain the state of His mind. 

But such was the love of God at work in Christ, that He was able to overcome these deepest of emotions and hurts and fears for our sake. What depth of compassion, mercy and grace flowed in Emmanuel’s veins that He would suffer such horror, anguish and depression so that we might be reconciled to God. He loved us so much that He was able to step aside from depression and press forward, and unless you have had your mind and heart in the inky dark grasp of depression’s many-folded pit, you cannot comprehend what an amazing feat that is. His commissioning command to GoLove others is born from the intensity of this love.

How great a love the Father has lavished on us! We cannot comprehend its depths! We cannot overstate His faithfulness, mercy, compassion and grace! We simply do not have the words, but the cross and empty tomb paint the perfect picture. 

Psalm 88 // Lamenting openly

The week of listening continues.

A Cry of Desperation

A song. A psalm of the sons of Korah. For the choir director: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

1 “Lord, God of my salvation,

I cry out before You day and night.

2 May my prayer reach Your presence;

listen to my cry.

3 For I have had enough troubles,

and my life is near Sheol.

4 I am counted among those going down to the Pit.

I am like a man without strength,

5 abandoned among the dead.

I am like the slain lying in the grave,

whom You no longer remember,

and who are cut off from Your care.

6 You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit,

in the darkest places, in the depths.

7 Your wrath weighs heavily on me;

You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves.”               Selah

8 “You have distanced my friends from me;

You have made me repulsive to them.

I am shut in and cannot go out.

9 My eyes are worn out from crying.

Lord, I cry out to You all day long;

I spread out my hands to You.

10 Do You work wonders for the dead?

Do departed spirits rise up to praise You?”           Selah

11 “Will Your faithful love be declared in the grave,

Your faithfulness in Abaddon?

12 Will Your wonders be known in the darkness

or Your righteousness in the land of oblivion?

13 But I call to You for help, Lord;

in the morning my prayer meets You.

14 Lord, why do You reject me?

Why do You hide Your face from me?

15 From my youth,

I have been afflicted and near death.

I suffer Your horrors; I am desperate.

16 Your wrath sweeps over me;

Your terrors destroy me.

17 They surround me like water all day long;

they close in on me from every side.

18 You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me;

darkness is my only friend.”

Psalm 43 // Send Your light & truth

When we are feeling down, there is only one real cure for our broken hearts. When we are depressed, there is only one light bright enough to cut through our gloom. When we are distracted and dismayed, there is only one source of truth that can snap us out of the false reality set before our eyes.

The light and truth of our Father, God, is our only hope, our only guide and the one true source of joy when we have no where else to turn.

Praise God for His unfailing love!

“1 Vindicate me, God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly nation;
rescue me from the deceitful and unjust man.
2 For You are the God of my refuge.
“Why have You rejected me?
Why must I go about in sorrow
because of the enemys oppression?”

3 Send Your light and Your truth; let them lead me.
Let them bring me to Your holy mountain,
to Your dwelling place.
4 Then I will come to the altar of God,
to God, my greatest joy.
I will praise You with the lyre,
God, my God.

5 “Why am I so depressed?
Why this turmoil within me?”
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him,
my Savior and my God.”