Wednesday evening was my last meeting with the men’s group I’ve worked with for well over a decade. Over 30-guys showed up, representing a good cross-section of those who have been involved over the years.
We enjoyed BBQ, great conversation around the tables, and then a very thoughtful program designed by my friends Gerard and Dave.
The group gave me a creative gift: They purchased two sets of my five-book collection, one for the church library at FPCBrandon, and then one they are sending – along with a beautiful letter of encouragement – to the Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.
Then it was my turn. The balance of today’s post (it’s longer than my usual 500 words) is exactly what I said, Wednesday evening, for my “last words at Brandon.”
A FEW WORDS TO A FEW GOOD MEN:
Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (John 10:6-10 – The Message)
The problem with goodbyes, other than the danger of over-the-top sentimentality from someone who already paddles overmuch in that particular pond – is the tendency to compress something huge (such as 17-years) into a just few sound-bytes – and thereby make year after year of unexceptional plodding look like an explosion of achievement worthy of some kind of a Nobel prize!
Fact is, all I’ve really done around here since 1996 is to try to be faithful to my calling as a Jesus-follower, and to be dedicated to my role as “husband of the preacher.”
And, along the way, I managed to take turns between falling on my face and enjoying small increments of success as a representative of Jesus as I sought to do the following:
- Parent two teenagers and launch them into the world of young-adulthood
- Stand by Rebekah as she led a (then) struggling church into the possibility of new life
- Help severely emotionally disturbed public-school students claim responsibility for their lives
- Encourage First Presbyterian parents of teens (and then grads) to live as faithful disciples
- Offer Bible-study, encouragement, prayer and accountability to men
- Share the Good News of the Gospel of Love via a “What the heck, I’m pretty sure I can do this!” free-lance writing career
- Fine-tune my essential message and present it in such a way that people throughout the United States might be inspired and encouraged to re-create their lives as Followers of the Living Way of Jesus.
GRACE STEPPED IN: I’d like to say it was me, but as I look back of the years and take note of where those hopes and dreams eventually led, all I can see is the overwhelming and abundant and generous love of God as – time and again – grace stepped in and carried us all through; not because but in spite of myself, and my shortcomings as a Christian, a father, a husband, a teacher, a writer, a leader, and a friend.
There has been so much encouragement and good news recently… but this summer, especially, has been a loud and boisterous witness to the generosity of God’s Amazing Grace
- July 6, the truculent 14-year old we brought with us to Brandon in 1996 married his beautiful Alicia, and took her to their idyllic home in Italy
- Also in July, the rebellious 12-year old we dragged – kicking and screaming – to Brandon presented her second beautiful child for baptism; she and her husband Craig are completely happy
- First Presbyterian Church of Brandon is possibly the strongest, most confident Presbyterian faith community I’ve ever known
- My writing career has opened doors for ministry that I never imagined.
- The small groups I’ve been privileged to work with are full with passionate disciples of Jesus who are living transformed lives for God
- I look around and I see friends just about bursting with excitement because of their faith, and because they can’t wait to see what God is going to do as they walk the road less travelled by and take the next step in their journey as disciples…
And here – looking around this room – is the exact reason I “hung in there” through my fear and inadequacies and plodded away, as best I knew how, determined to move forward in my own faith journey at the same time I have encouraged others to pursue theirs.
YOU ARE THE ANSWER! So what I want to share with you this evening is – quite simply – the basic message I share every time I go out on the road, when I meet with groups of men whose leaders have made the mistake of thinking that because I’m a fairly decent writer I can also speak in public.
“The assembled group of men, here in this room, comprise God’s best answer to the future of the church. This church. Any church you may happen to represent.”
Because – I believe – it is small groups of men who are passionate about their faith as committed followers of the living way of Jesus who are THE KEY to the future of the church.
When men learn to break down the barriers we have constructed between ourselves and intimate relationships – including an intimate relationship with God – then something powerful is released in the life of the community, and that power is the power of God to transform our individual lives and to transform the life of the church….
If you truly want to do something meaningful in response to whatever it is that I may have done to help you move forward in your faith journey… then do this:
- Renew your commitment to be a follower of the Living Way of Jesus
- Be active in the men’s ministry of this church
- Promise God right now that you will invite at least one friend to be a part of this ministry… and then actually follow through – don’t give up until your friend is ready to invite their first friend to church
- Begin each and every day – intentionally – in the presence of God
- Be – and this is the bottom line – the kind of man who, when your feet hit the floor on your side of the bed in the morning, the devil says, “Oh crap, he’s up!”
THIS IS THE POINT: Everything I do, every column I write, every blog I post, every retreat I lead, every conference I speak at… is for one purpose…
And that purpose is to encourage people – and most especially men – to take hold of life to the extent that Jesus described in John 10:10, when he pointed out that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Don’t let the thieves steal your joy, your faith, your commitments, your relationships, your life….
I love the way this passage is paraphrased in “The Message:”
Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.
Jesus came so you can have real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed of!
More life; better life.
So, you want what I have been up to for the past 17 years to mean something after I’m gone?
Then LIVE LIKE YOU MEAN IT…. Because God most certainly meant it when you were created. Because God most certainly meant it when he directed you to this place this evening….
I love you all – DEREK