Last evening our association of churches had their annual Christmas Dinner for the Pastors and Board Members and their spouses. We had some 150 folks, give or take a few, a great program of interactive, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, music of the season, and a great meal. Then the Moderator called me to the platform to reveal what they had been "plotting" for weeks. He presented me with an "only one of its kind" plaque to commemorate my five year ministry with them. I say "only one of its kind" for prominently displayed on it was a picture of a "candy bar" with the words which expressed appreciation for their "upside-down" Director of Missions, me! (Check out my October 14th blog for the Candy bar they chose and why.) I'll post a picture of the plaque later, but the gist of it was exactly the way I would have picked it. I kinda like the idea of reaching outside the box, and it was affirming to see how I may have made an impact in my time as Director.
Along with the plaque, I was presented with a quilt that had all of the names of the 50 churches blocked on it, with space for individual members to sign their names under their particular church. What a memory stimulator for years to come! Then he gave me an album with personal letters written from many of the pastors and members we have had the privilege of partnering in ministry with through these years. I'll have to sit and dwell on that for an age or two. Finally, he handed us envelopes that held checks representing gifts from the churches which had been collected over the past few weeks of planning. How precious are the heartfelt offerings which love stimulated people extend. We are closing tomorrow on our new home in Arkansas and you know what? The gifts more than paid the closing costs and covered the first month's payment, as well. God is so good to provide, is He not? Thank you, West Union churches, for your channeling of His goodness.
As I was given the pulpit to share a few closing remarks in response to the gifts and the love expressed by so many in so many ways, I was at first "speechless". I know, that is a "paradox" in terms, but I was. Then these thoughts occurred to me. First, I shared my impressions of what this five years has meant to me as I draw this part of my ministry to a close with my "retirement". The spirit and harmony of this group of churches has been the most affirming I have ever known. They took me and my leadership with an openness and heart that allowed us to explore new avenues of ministry and missions, fulfilling from year one the call of Acts 1:8, to be witnesses not only in their geographic "Jerusalem" but their "Judea, Samaria and Uttermost", as well. Their acceptance of new ideas and new ways of doing "the old, old story" was truly a blessing to me. I praise God for His mercy in granting Virginia and I such an experience to round out our "missionary" careers.
As I reflected then upon my future vision, I revisited the experience I shared with the "Board" in my first meeting with them after becoming their Director of Missions. I was traveling from Missouri to Kentucky for that meeting and it was early morning with the just rising in the east. As I neared the Mississippi River, through the roadside's moving line of trees I could see the yellow and orange rays blasting through the foliage. I saw in my mind what Moses must have seen on the mountain when the bush glowed with the glory of God's presence. A burning but not consumed and each tree seemed to represent churches that were there, waiting to catch their own fire of His presence and rekindling. I would that I could say that all of them did, but many have, and in ways no one could have planned. Acts of God for sure! As I revisited with them this vision and my coming move back across that mighty river, I recalled again recent trips west at sunset, which have again ignited the trees. East or west, north or south, God's presence is an ever present reality we must ever pursue. No retirement here, when God's call is to fan the flames wherever and whenever we are called to go.
How about you? Facing a change in your venue. The vision from God is always the same, revisit it and be consumed within its flame. You won't be "burned up" if you do, just "warmed" by the glorious light of His presence ever with you.
Be encouraged today, my friend.