Friday, August 28, 2009

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow -

I have experienced my share of painful moments in ministry, and this past Sunday ranks extremely high on the list. How does one share the news with the congregation you planted and have served for 7 years that you are absolutely convinced that the Lord has brought your time of direct service with that beloved family of faith to a close and has directed you to move on to another place of service? Well, of course, you just have to say it, but the declaration itself is often not adequate for addressing the many questions that arise as the faithful flock ponders the news that can present a great deal of uncertainty as to what comes next. I have a few thoughts that I hope will offer reassurance to those with any concerns and confidence to all that God is in this decision and this decision will result in blessings and growth for all who are engaged in His Kingdom work as it pertains to Eastside Community Church of Harper Woods. It is truly a moment that is sweet and sorrowful at the same time.

My first thought is this: Eastside is not MY church. I mean this in the most absolute sense. Jesus said The Church - all believers from all ages individually and all local bodies and collections of believers who have come together in His name past, present and future are HIS. That means Eastside is His possession, not mine and I must make decisions related to Eastside's well-being not necessarily according to what makes me comfortable or what makes life easier for me. Jesus has a Kingdom agenda for Eastside. I have come to an understanding that my primary role in God's Kingdom agenda for Eastside Community Church was to get it up and running. I believe the Lord has put the gifts that Luz and I possess to good use in this catalytic, get-things-going role and that Eastside is now primed to grow and expand under the leadership of another pastor with gifts and skills that lend themselves to growing and expanding a small church administratively and ministerially. The potential for the future of Eastside is exciting and it is sweet!

My second thought is focused on the members of Eastside themselves. My Eastside family is wonderful, beautiful, magnificent and glorious. These amazing people consistently make an impact on the immediate community and the world at large that is proportionately much greater than their numerical size. My love for these people is boundless and their love for me and my family has been and is immense. It is because of this great love and my family's interconnectedness with the members of Eastside that our departure is painful. If there were no love, no affection and no concern for the people that have been my extended family for the last 7 years, we could simply pull up our stakes and leave without a second thought. But the love overflows, the affection abounds and the concern is eternal. For us, though the situation full of sweetness as we look toward the future, because of our monumental past, it is also accompanied with a profound sense of sorrow.

Nevertheless, the call persists. In the convergence of events, circumstances, and people that the Lord uses to help us discern His will at any given moment, Luz, the girls and I believe without doubt, that the Lord has called us to transfer our direct ministry gifts and daily ministry operations away from Eastside Community Church of Harper Woods, MI and towards Grace Church of Racine, WI. There are no differences in theology, mission or purpose. The doctrinal statements of the two congregations are virtually the same and both local bodies are inextricably dedicated to the Great Commission - taking the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world - and to the Great Commandment - demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ to all people in real life and real time.

These commonalities are strong and bind both bodies together in the economy of God. Nevertheless, their histories and ministry foci are somewhat different. Eastside is a smaller, newer, more diverse congregation with a heart for ministry and poised for growth in infrastructure and the coordination of its ministry structures. Grace Church Racine is a larger, older and less diverse congregation with a strong infrastructure seeking to implement new ministries to reach the community and new opportunities to reflect the beauty of diversity within the context of the local church. The Lord has used my family and I to establish Eastside as a significant presence on the east side of Detroit and as a useful help to other ministries around the world. Eastside is now ready to grow in number and in strength under the direction and leadership of the person of God's choosing in God's time. Grace Racine, though much older and extremely well-established, is at a time in its history that it is prepared to initiate new ministries and strategies to reach the Racine area, the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and the world as it never before. Joining the Grace Racine family once again places my family and I in a position to initiate, create and implement new strategies to reach those who need to know the love of Jesus Christ on a very broad scale and to assist, encourage and partner with smaller congregations who are committed to do the same.

Our decision is truly a Kingdom focused decision, rooted in our desire to pursue the Lord's will and maximize the use of our gifts for His Kingdom. It is a hard decision emotionally, yet it is an easy decision when our focus is turned towards the Lord and His agenda. We love Eastside. We love Grace Racine. Above all we love the Lord and we are committed to follow Him even when it hurts. I ask you my family and friends to pray for us and to join us in praying for the congregation we are leaving and the congregation we are joining. Also, feel free to ask any questions you might have regarding this move and our perspective on God's plan as it pertains to us. Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow, but following Christ's direction brings us joy and the joy of the Lord remains our strength. Until next time...


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Passing the Baton

"I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved!" So states the U.S. Army's First General Order. It is a principle of service that I have continued to apply beyond military endeavors and which has shaped my attitude towards ministry service since I began following the Lord's calling on my life over 25 years ago. It was in that spirit that 12 years ago, Luz, our girls and I left our beleoved ministry in Cleveland and began our Motown ministry adventure. Our time of ministry here in "The 'D'" has been punctuated by almost every human emotion - joy, sorrow, triumph, disappointment, heartache, victory, doubt and hope. Our family has grown and experienced God's amazing love in abundance all along the way. We have dreamed boldly and we have seen God's faithfulness to us in every situation through which we have traveled and have come away from even the most painful of experiences with a deeper faith in the Lord and a renewed commitment to walk forward in our lives whatever the circumstance.

Nevertheless, as vocational Christian workers, even when we have emotionally felt that we were riding the crest of a wave, we have always endeavored to be sensitive to God's leading and to follow His call wherever it might take us. It is for that reason that after much prayer, contemplation and reflection, we have arrived at the conclusion that the Lord is calling us to pass the baton of leadership at Eastside Community Church to others and to follow His call to Wisconsin. There I will serve on the staff of a wonderful Church and a strong body of Christians dedicated to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment as the Pastor of Outreach. It is my duty in that ministry capacity to lead the congregation in outreach ministries "Here, there and everywhere" in accordance with Acts 1:8 which would include local and International ministries.

It is our sentiment that our work in Eastside has reached its climax and that it is time to allow others to build upon the foundation that the Lord has mercifully allowed us to establish. It is also our belief that our next ministry assignment offers an optimal opportunity for us to put our gifts to use in the most effective way at this time in our lives and at this stage of our ministry experience. The passion and focus that has characterized all of our ministry assignments will continue, it is just the setting and context that will change. Also, the diversity, warmth and heartfelt outreach that have characterized Eastside will also continue and I believe grow as new leadership emerges with a fresh sense of God's purpose and direction for Eastside of Detroit.

I will continue to share my thoughts on faith and life through the vehicle of this Blog. As I continue to share, please keep in mind that the next two months or so will be a time of transition in the ministries we are bridging - much like the passing lane of a relay race where responsibilities for one leg of the race taper off and, as the baton is exchanged, the responsibilities for another leg rev up to full speed.

We ask for your prayers as we seek to follow the Lord where He has led us. Please feel free to let us know how we can be of service to you and encourage you in the faith during this exciting period of our lives. Until next time...


Friday, August 14, 2009

Eternity in Their Hearts

During the past four days, our church has been fully engaged in our annual action-packed VBS ministry we call Kids Adventure Week. It's a week filled with fun, games and activities all geared to introduce children to who Jesus is and how Jesus wants us to live. I am amazed at how spiritually attuned even the youngest children can be. I was most amazed to have a reminder of this truth hit very close to home.

While chatting about church business, my youngest daughter Victoria, who is four, played all around me, hopping in my lap, kissing me on the cheek, hitting me with various objects, seemingly oblivious to the conversations Luz and I were having. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Victoria asked a question that piqued my interest: "Daddy, what's your mommy's name?" "Georgia." I replied. "Where is she now?" Victoria continued. "With Jesus." I answered. "How did she get there?" Victoria followed up. I paused. "How do I explain this?" I thought. "Well, I guess I just need to say it." I sat Victoria on my lap and began to more directly engage her in conversation. "She died." I stated plainly. "What does die mean?" She inquired. "Well, it's when your body stops working and your spirit goes on to Forever. For people like Grandma who know Jesus, those people go to be with Him." "Will you die Daddy?" I really didn't want to think about that, but it was a great question and a good reminder of how I should approach the rest of my life. "Yes." I said. "When?" She retorted. Another good question. I thought of friends who have passed on from accidents, disease, mishaps and considered my family history and other factors as well. "I really don't know. I'm asking Jesus to let it be a long time from now so I can be with you for a while. But, it's up to Him. It will be when He has planned it." I answered. She responded immediately. "What about me? Will I die?" Wow. "One day Sweetheart. Everyone dies. Most likely it's a long time from now, and Jesus has plenty for you to do before that. But it's a good thing to remember." Her questions had me reflecting on some pretty critical issues. She frowned. "I don't understand everything you're talking about Daddy." I reassured her, "That's OK. It can take a while to understand what dying is and even Daddy doesn't understand it all yet." That satisfied her curiosity for the time being. "Can I go play now?" She asked. "Of course!" I answered. She hopped out of my lap and was once again on her way.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God, "...has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." Human beings have been created to understand that there is more to life than what we can see in the here and now. Even a four year old has a cosmic curiosity that causes them to ponder deep questions and seek meaningful answers. Jesus was well aware of this a took time to address the spiritual needs of children. Many of us are familiar with Jesus' advocacy for children as expressed in the gospels. Mark 10:13-16 reports,
1People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Jesus became indignantly angry when His disciples became too absorbed with their own goals and agendas to recognize the clear responsibility and opportunity of ministry that stood right before them. I am thankful to Victoria for reminding me of the reason we do our Kids Adventure Week each year. Children are of the utmost importance to Jesus and deserve our prioritized focus, our loving attention, our nurturing touch and our spiritual blessing. Keep your eyes open in your daily walk for the opportunities the Lord will give you to bless a child. The attention you give will please the Lord and may help to provide some important answers to the spiritual questions the Lord has placed in their hearts. until next time...


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Real Men and Umbrellas

An endearing character in a 70's slapstick comedy had a recurring line that boiled down the challenges of manhood in a sngle phrase: "It's hard to be a man, Baby!" During my own growing years, my father must have felt the same way. His sentiments about the difficulties of manhood were expressed in a careful mixture of tenderness and toughness, designed to make me a caring, but tough man. One of the elements of my dad's toughening process was teaching me to deal with being wet. If it rained, we didn't stop any outdoor physical work activities. He held to the Army axiom, "If it ain't raining, we ain't training!" Besides that, I was never allowed to carry an umbrella. "You're not made out of sugar! You won't melt!" My dad would teasingly taunt. The principle that real men couldn't be stopped by water was reinforced time and time again. When I walked to school and it started to rain, I knew better than to expect a ride. "I wasn't made out of sugar. I wouldn't melt." The years passed and it kept raining. Even after I left my parent's home, through military training, missionary ventures, ministry experiences of all kinds, married life and fatherhood, it kept raining. I still wasn't made out of sugar and I still wouldn't melt.

Then came my latest visit with my father. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to see Dad for a day in North Carolina this week. We spent a day laughing and recalling times past - retelling stories of the tough and tender lessons my parents meted out and how those lessons had provided wisdom and guidance for me in all sorts of situations. My father was curious about the "full details" of many of the stories I had abbreviated over the years to keep him from worrying and to prevent him from knowing just how painful some of the events of my life had been. I shared about the loss of our daughter Samantha and just how close we had come to losing our daughter Victoria at birth. I told of almost being shot in the Philippines on a couple of occasions. I shared some of the more harrowing stories of our ministries among the poor and some of my most emotionally trying times in ministry, like the time when fellow minister absconded ministry funds and used them to corrupt a vulnerable coworker and to support an extramarital affair that almost collapsed our ministry. I shared the victories too, the funny tales and the miracles - all of which made my dad laugh with glee. Still, I could see that he continued to reflect on the tougher times I had just shared with him.

All the talking made us hungry, so dad and I went out for Chinese Cuisine. I drove us both to the nearest take out restaurant and Dad decided to wait in the car. While the order was being prepared, it began to rain - hard. Remembering our conversation, I began to chuckle. It looked like I'd have another opportunity to prove my manhood! A few minutes later, I turned to face the cashier to pay for the order. I turned to see how Dad was faring in the car and couldn't believe my eyes. Dad was shuffling along towards the door with an umbrella in his hand. He came to the door and closed the umbrella as he stepped inside. I just couldn't resist the temptation. "It's alright Dad!" I gently teased, "I'm not made out of sugar!" He smiled but I noticed tears were in his eyes. "I know," he said. "But I think you've been rained on enough." Then he handed me the umbrella. The tears were mine now. I paid for our food,and Dad and I walked to the car arm in arm under the umbrella . The was nothing more to prove, just a whole lot of love to share. A great lesson in parenting, and my dad barely said a word. Just a day in my life, with the man who gave me life - a real man who continues to teach me what manhood is all about. Until next time...