We didn’t make it easy. The farewell was supposed to happen two weeks ago after my final sermon at Grace Baptist Church, but my wife’s emergency gall bladder surgery would have kept her from taking part. So the church graciously postponed the festivities until she could be there.
Gracious. Grace. I love being part of a church that lives up to its name.
Since the announcement of our departure five weeks ago, we’ve been flooded with cards and messages and kind words spoken to us in the church lobby and at grocery stores and restaurants around town. All have been encouraging, many have been tearful (on both sides), and we have been so overwhelmed that we rarely find words in the moment to say what we would like to say. There has been a vaguely frustrating side to this process – where can we say what we want to say, NEED to say, to a church that has meant so much to us?
This morning, it dawned on me – I have a blog! So while space won’t allow us to say everything, here is some of what is on our hearts. We will write it, and trust that it will get around to those who need to hear it.
Thank you, Grace, for so warmly embracing us more than 13 years ago. We were fresh from the mission field, we were in reverse culture shock, we wondered if we had done the right thing in coming, and you provided a soft place for us to land and begin again.
Thank you, Grace, for caring for us through seasons of grief. Just six months after we arrived, we experienced the worst week of our lives – my mother died suddenly, my father had a major heart attack, and Murf had a life-changing car accident. You were there for us. Five years later, we lost Murf’s mother, my brother, and my father in the space of four months. Again, you were there for us. We will never forget that.
Thank you, Grace, for your heart for the world. When we came, a colleague predicted that mobilizing Grace for Missions would be like pushing a car downhill. I later told him that he was wrong – it was like pushing 20 cars downhill, and trying to keep up with them! In my candidating sermon in 2000, I asked you NOT to invite me to come unless you were prepared to provide the resources and the people to make a world-wide impact for Christ. You were, and you are. Guiding that process has been a privilege that I can’t put into words.
Thank you, Grace, for your heart for God. The most powerful corporate worship experiences of my life have taken place among you, led by colleagues and volunteers who delight in using their musical gifts to bring others powerfully into the presence of God.
Thank you, Grace, for your love for God’s word. Every pastor dreams of preaching in a church where people are eager to study, understand, and revel in the truth of God. The most unforgettable preaching moments of my life happened among you.
Thank you, Grace, for providing the sabbatical that changed my life. During those three months in the Fall of 2011, I discovered that Jesus was serious about His promise of rest for our souls. I’m now committed to the diligent, life-long pursuit of God’s gift of Sabbath rest. That delightful pursuit led directly to the existence of this blog (which by the way, I plan to continue). God used your generous offer of the sabbatical to teach me to rest. I hope you will never stop caring for your pastors in that way.
Our transition to Grace from France in 2001 was made easier by the wonderful farewell we received from our church in Menton. Those expressions of love and kindness helped us to close that chapter and move to Santa Clarita with energy and hope for the future. As we prepare to move to Heights Church in Prescott, we are sensing that same level of energy and hope. Your expressions of love and kindness are a huge part of that, and we appreciate them more than we could ever say.
We love you, Grace Baptist Church, and are incredibly grateful for the time that we have spent here. We take wonderful memories to Arizona, along with the confidence that our relationship with you is not really ending – after all, our daughter and son-in-law and two grandsons will remain among you, and they will have a magnetic pull on us. So you will see us from time to time.
But until then, thank you. Thank you for being the kind of church mentioned in Hebrews 13:17, where believers are encouraged to be sources of joy to those who keep watch over their souls.
For us, you have been that source of joy. Grace to you.
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