(This also appeared in the Faith column of the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, KY on March 3, 2017)
“I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3, NIV).
This will be my last article for the Sentinel-New faith column. My family and I have recently accepted a call for me to become the next senior pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Danville, KY. This is a time of great joy and considerable sadness as we prepare to say goodbye to this amazing community. God’s calling is always that way: joyful and difficult. But we have faith that Simpsonville Christian Church, where I have been privileged to serve for over four years, will continue to grow. And we believe that the next season of our lives in Danville holds exciting potential by way of God’s amazing grace.
I remember when I was first asked to write a biweekly column for the Sentinel. I was extraordinarily flattered and humbled. I have taken this responsibility very seriously and have worked hard to offer something every other week to the people of this community that they might find meaningful and inspiring. And I have tried not to avoid the difficult and sometimes controversial topics, as I believe that a word from God is appropriate and necessary even in the things that are tough to talk about.
Over the last few years I have been continually blessed by those of you who took time out of your day to write me an email, mail me a letter, or stop me at the grocery store to say something about what I wrote in these columns. Even if you did so to disagree with me, I was still flattered and blessed by it. It shows that you cared enough to read it in the first place. I love that we can disagree and still be neighbors. If I have ever written something that was unfair or offensive, I genuinely ask your forgiveness. We try the best we can to speak truth with love to each other, but we invariably fall short and I am keenly aware that ministers are no exception.
Because I am most passionate about church and community wholeness, justice for the abused, and recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, these are the topics I most often addressed. And if it hasn’t been clear before, let me tell you one last time that at my core, in my soul, from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, I am convinced that God’s grace has the power to transform anyone, no matter what they have thought, felt, believed, done, or have had done to them. I am absolutely certain that God’s love can and will repair the broken places in our individual lives, in our families, and in our society. The challenge for us is to actually give it a try. In other words, if we put into action Monday through Saturday the things many of us claim to believe on Sunday morning, that we have been forgiven, reconciled to God, and commanded to love our neighbors, even our enemies, then I am certain many of the things we lament and fight over will dissolve and disappear, just as the night fades into the dawn. This is basically what I have tried to say in so many ways.
The only other thing that I absolutely must say is this: Thank you. Thank you for being hospitable neighbors. When we came to Simpsonville in 2013, we didn’t know anybody. Now, we can’t go to the store or the post office without running into a cherished friend. Since I became a father, I dreamed that my children would feel safe playing on their neighborhood street. I wanted them to know the kids they lived near and played soccer, went to school, attended church, and performed in the theater with. I wanted my children and my wife to have community support independent of the congregation I served. I hoped that I would find people that would look out for them, and look out for me. I dreamed of how wonderful it would be to be greeted by name and brought a casserole when I was sick. We have been blessed by all of these things and more. I have been blessed by you. So thank you!
And so with great sadness, I compose my final words to this special community, graced by God. I want you to know that everything God needs to fix the problems in the world is already here. There is already enough love here. There is already enough forgiveness here. There is enough hospitality and there is already enough faith. So I implore you to lean into the unfailing presence of God that is already dwelling among you. Hold back that unkind word that you are tempted to hurl at your sister or brother. Let go of the resentment and negativity that too often scar the pages of this fine newspaper and embrace what makes Shelby County so special: that same love you embraced my family with. That’s what I’ll always remember about you. And as Paul said, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”