Sunday, July 23, 2017

Thank You Heartland Church

Dear Heartland Church:

It is with both sadness and great excitement that Pam and I let you know that after nearly seventeen years (eleven on staff) our time at Heartland Church has come to an end.

We are eternally grateful for your encouragement, support and prayers over all of these years and, even more so, for your love.  You shared in many of the most joyous times in our lives and, of course, the most tragic time in our lives, and we will always thank God for each of you.  In the worst of times we do not know how we would have survived without you.

At the same time, we are so thankful for the opportunity we have had to serve so many of you, and are still humbled and amazed at the many times you allowed us to be a part of the most private, intimate and important moments of your lives.  It has been incredible to see God's hand at work, and we will always count serving you as one of the greatest pleasures of our lives.

Thanks to the entire church staff for your friendship over these years.   There is not enough room here to say all the things that should be said to each of you.  In fact, I am still looking for the words to try to explain the impact you have had on our lives.

We are particularly indebted to Pastor Dan for recognizing the calling on our lives, and for his mentorship and friendship over the years.  If there is one thing we have never doubted it is Pastor Dan's love for God and his love for God's people.

Still, in the past few months we have seen the unmistakable footsteps of God leading us to somewhere new.  I have accepted a job in the legal department of an incredible company and will be working with an amazing and talented group of people.  As we are all commanded to do, it is my intention to work at this new position wholeheartedly, as if working for God himself.  Colossians 3:23-24. ("Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." )

And, by doing so, I will also be able to continue serving God without being a financial burden on God's people.  While there is certainly nothing wrong with being in full time ministry, there is also an incredible blessing in being able to preach the Gospel for free.  Pam and I know that God is not finished with us just yet, and we are extremely excited about the plans He has for us.  We are anxious to share more about those plans in the days ahead.

We have tried, to the best of our ability, to serve you in love -- proclaiming the Gospel and teaching the whole truth through the Word and through our way of life.  Know that Pam and I love each of you -- and always will.  Keep watch over yourselves and continue to draw close to God.  Follow Jesus alone.  We pray that God would continue to build you up so that you may attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  See Ephesians 4:1-13. 

Love you all.

John and Pam

P.S., Just because we are transitioning doesn't mean we need to stop seeing the people we love!

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.   Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?   He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)   So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

                                                                                 Ephesians 4:1-13. 



Friday, June 9, 2017

June 10, 2017

If life had continued as we had planned, hoped or thought, tomorrow we would all be celebrating Jonathan's 31st birthday.  Perhaps right now Pam and I would be frantically cleaning the house.  Or maybe she would be in the kitchen baking a cake or in her office wrapping a carefully selected present.  We might be anticipating spending tomorrow as a family, preparing for Jonathan to come through the door with his latest girlfriend -- or by now maybe even with his wife and our grandbaby in tow.

But, of course, life did not turn out as we would have wanted.  There will be no cake and no celebration.  There will be no daughter-in-law, and no grandchild for us to play with.  And, worst of all, there will be no Jonathan.  It is still hard to accept sometimes -- still hard to believe that its not just a bad dream.  It is a reality we must try to accept again daily -- he was taken from us and he will not be coming back.

From time to time people will say, particularly of my wife, that they cannot believe how strong we have been in the face of all that has happened.  There is a part of me that wishes that were true.  The truth is, though, that we are both still frail.  If only it were possible to peel back the exterior and feel what we feel.  You would experience an unbearable anguish -- a brokenness from which I doubt either of us will ever fully recover.

For many of us the burden of life can become overwhelming at times.  For all of us, there will be days when it seems like just getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other requires every ounce of strength that we have.  When those days come -- and they will -- I hope you have a little grace for yourself.  And, I hope that you find the faith to believe that God has something better for you in the future.

It is interesting to me that great men of God, who had far greater reason to trust God than most of us do, where nevertheless overwhelmed by the stress of life.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth not only about the hardships and suffering he and others were experiencing, but also about the emotional toll it was taking on them -- they "despaired even of life." 2 Corinthians 1:8.

Moses heard God speak from a burning bush, bring plagues on Egypt, pour water out of a rock, part the Red Sea and feed the Israelites with manna from heaven -- to name a few reasons why Moses might have been unwavering in his faith, strength and confidence.  But despite all of this, Moses was rarely in a place of comfort.

In fact, despite all that Moses had seen the Lord do, the burden of serving God often overwhelmed him. One time in particular the people were grumbling about, of all things, having to eat manna instead of the meat, fish, cucumbers, melons and other things that had been available to them in Egypt. And, Moses had enough -- the burden had become too great and he asked God to put him to death!

He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?  Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors?  Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’  I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.  If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

Numbers 11:11-15.

Elijah, too, had seen God do many things. In First Kings, we read about Elijah's epic battle against the prophets of Baal. See, 1 Kings 18:20-39. You probably know the story. Elijah, the lone prophet of the Lord, challenged the four-hundred and fifty prophets of Baal to a kind of duel.

In the end, Elijah saw his prayers answered, as the fire of the Lord fell on Elijah's sacrifice -- burning not only the bull, but the wood, the stones, the soil and the water in the trench in the process. The four-hundred and fifty prophets of Baal lost their lives that day. 1 Kings 18:40.

Yet, shortly after this incredible encounter with God Elijah was running for his life. Like Moses, Elijah had enough, and asked God to take his life.

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”  Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

1 Kings 19:3-5.

In the end, though, Moses and Elijah persevered, and God honored His promises to them.  And, both of these men ultimately found themselves on the mountain top in one of the most powerful moments recorded in the New Testament.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Matthew 17:1-5.

As I write this today, it is impossible to see Pam and me on any mountain top.  It is just not a place my imagination can take me.

Yes, tomorrow will come and go.  But many June 10ths will follow.  We will still have many Christmas mornings and Easter Sundays without him.  Every milestone in the lives of our other children promise to be bitter-sweet.  We will watch his friends have families of their own, and our joy for them will be met with a tinge of sorrow.  This is our reality.

But still, we have faith.  We cannot see it, touch it, or even imagine it -- but we believe God has a better future for us.  Maybe even an unimaginably good one.