The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

The Sovereign Surgeon

*Tonight, at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on 2016. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

My Dearest Shades Valley,

fullsizerender-7Our community turned twenty-five years old in 2016! The Lord has blessed me to pastor you for five of those years, and every one of them has been his grace upon my life. Last year was no exception. I’m not saying that everything has been easy. We’ve been at this thing called community far too long to naïvely believe it is pain free. But, our sovereign God of redemption uses even the deepest of cuts for our ultimate good and his glory.

fullsizerender-9That truth has expressed itself in a very physical manner in my own life. As you know, since 2011 I have lived with a herniated L5 disc. Two months ago, I finally gave in and went under the surgeon’s knife. The obvious goal of surgery is not to harm, but to heal. However, there must be a cutting in order to cure, and right now, just eight weeks post-surgery, I can tell you that is exactly what has happened. I am virtually pain free!

As I look back over 2016 at Shades, I feel like I can see this same “cutting in order to cure” at work under the Sovereign Surgeon’s hand. Tonight, we have surely seen an example of this through reflecting on last year’s budget. Just a few months ago, God invited us to trust him with our $40,000 gash in our gut… I mean talk about needing surgery! Then, somehow we finished the year with a $36,000 surplus? There is no “somehow” to that, there is a “someone” behind it… to God be the glory!

Once I started thinking about it, I quickly discovered that the examples of God “cutting in order to cure” at Shades during 2016 are countless. I only have time to point out a few, and please know this is not a “brag-on-ourselves” list! This is a “boast-in-the-Lord” list! He alone is the great physician, and his healing touch can be seen all throughout our history! These are just a few of his 2016 miracles…

fullsizerender-6Our building had a literal surgery last spring, and it wasn’t just a cosmetic facelift. No. Our dying and decaying roof was finally replaced! And by God’s grace we were able to pay cash for our new-giant-metal umbrella, and we have been leak free since!

In 2016, the Great Physician also performed many open-heart procedures through the leaders of various ministries! I wish I could go through all the details of things like new song writing projects in the worship ministry, the women’s ministry writing their own curriculum, the men’s ministry taking their first retreat, Lenten prayer meetings hosted by the prayer team, or how about the fact that there are now over one hundred and twenty volunteers working with our children’s img_4188ministry! God has cut-open and reworked so many ministries this past year, like the West Homewood Farmer’s market. Through the market’s leadership, the Lord surgically shifted their approach resulting in the most successful summer season yet. God is using the market’s positive impact to cut into the surrounding community with the Gospel!

fullsizerender-10The Lord has also performed surgical additions to our own church community through a second full-time pastor, new means of communication via The Realm, new members, new community groups (there are now 16 total), and new births (physical and spiritual). And, all this growth is not without inevitable growing-pains. As our church enlarges we must all press into community all the more, and we must press out of our own social circles, through the pain and awkwardness in order to pull others into this family we call Shades.

The Lord has given us much this past year, but, surgeon that he is, he has also taken away. We have again felt the pain and grief of loss, and as we have held each other in hospital waiting rooms and at gravesides. We’ve wept together, prayed together, and helped one another to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord who is with us through it all.” We have pointed one another toward the rock-solid hope that the day will dawn when we will experience no more harm, but only healing… no more cuts, only cure.

Until that day, we will be a people who embrace the harm for the sake of the healing! We will be a people who commission forth families like the Smiths (name changed for safety). We feel the pain of the Sovereign Surgeon cutting them out from our midst and calling them far from home. But, we send them forth to carry the cure of the Gospel to unreached peoples. This is a picture of identity that belongs to each of us at SVCC. Whether we are called across the ocean or to high there in Birmingham, we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the Gospel! We cry out for God to continue cutting into our lives and our church in whatever way is necessary for the cure of the Gospel to spread!

fullsizerender-3This is our prayer as we head into 2017. It is the prayer we speak over each other week after week. We pray that we go into the world in peace, having courage, holding on to what is good, honoring all men, strengthening the faint-hearted, supporting the weak, helping the suffering, and sharing the Gospel. We pray that we love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the grace of our lord Jesus Christ is with us all. And, to this prayer we, the people of God, say again and again, “Amen.”

I love you all,

Jonathan

 

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An Advent Poem

It’s become a bit of a tradition each year that, as my gift to the body of Shades Valley Community Church, I write a poem (I’m a wanna be poet, but SVCC tolerates my attempts very graciously). This year, in light of our sermon series, “Why so Downcast, O My Soul,” the Lord laid the following words on my heart. I pray that this points you to the joy and peace we have through the birth of Jesus.
Merry Christmas, Jonathan Haefs
(If you’d rather listen than read, click here)

Peace, Be Free
Why so downcast, O my soul?
Why all this anxiety?
My heart races, as in dark places
My eyes strain to see.

I count again to calm the fear,
Again that I might sleep.
But I’m restlessness still, upon this hill
Amidst my numbered sheep.

All are present, none are lost.
I repeat this true refrain.
Yet downcast still, anxiety kills
Any peace my mind contains.

The worries of the night are bright,
And I deaf to comfort’s call.
It makes no sense, a heart so dense
That knows not peace at all.

O God why have you made me thus?
Why must I live this way?
Each night depressed, without rest
And anxious through each day

Can I find peace in your great love
When everything feels at war?
I with my mind, with you at times,
Nothing’s stable anymore.

Then…

Without warning, without permission
A new fright breaks the night!
Darkness dispelled, my breath held
Before an angel wrapped in light!

Fear not, he says to my fearing heart.
Good tidings I bring, great truth!
One has been born, who is Lord,
And he’s pleased to bring peace to you!

My heart stopped, temperature dropped
As a multitude appeared.
Glory to God, come and laud,
Salvation has drawn near!

I ran in haste, the sheep kept pace.
To the side of a manger I came.
I saw his face, incarnate grace,
I’d never be the same

My heart was still, despite the chill.
Anxiety suddenly ceased.
This child king, whom angels sing
Has calmed my heart with peace.

My downcast soul, was lifted up
As he lifted his eyes my way.
In their depths, I stared and wept.
Pure love was on display.

Why so downcast, O my soul?
Why all this anxiety?
See his face, receive his grace
And by his peace be free!

advent images.jpg*Artwork by Noah Stalcup

A Prayer for Asher

Heavenly Father…

Yet again you have graced me with a gift I did nothing to deserve. I hold in my arms my fourth child… my second son… Asher David Haefs. I find myself more in awe of your mystery and miracles every time I experience the wonder of a baby’s entrance into the world. It seems like the opposite should be true… I should be growing more accustomed to this by now… I should be used to it…

…but i’m not.

How one could ever become numb to revelations of glory is beyond me. The mountain range of your majesty looms larger with every peak I summit.

And… as I see more and more of your greatness, I simultaneously feel more and more of my depravity. Why me? Why would I be graced with such a gift? Why would I be entrusted with such a treasure? Why would you choose weakness such as me?

That’s when my heart hears your reply… “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Oh Lord, this is the prayer of my heart and the cry of my soul… that your power would be made known to this beautiful boy even when it when the only way for it to be seen is through my weakness! Exploit my weakness everyday if it means him seeing more of you! I know that I am merely a weak vessel of clay that’s ready to crack… still I have this treasure… that you would pour forth your power through the cracks in such a way that all may know it could obviously come only from you!

God, you must father this child, as you do all my children. You must guide, strengthen, raise, nurture, lead, discipline, care, and comfort. You must be his rock, his foundation, and his salvation… for I can never be any of these things. Keep me from ever thinking I could substitute for you. Let this be the single greatest thing I ever teach him, namely, that his needs will not be met in me, but in you and you alone.

We have named him Asher (which means “happy”) in hopes that he will truly live up to his name and know the deepest, highest, widest and longest happiness… you!

HAPPY is the man whose transgressions are forgiven! HAPPY is the man whose sin is covered! HAPPY is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity! May Asher know the reason the forgiven are so happy, namely, their sin no longer stands in the way of having you! Oh I pray he knows the joy of his sin being removed so that he gets you! Let him experience fullness of joy in your presence, and everlasting pleasure at your right hand! May he drink deeply from the eternal fountain of your glory, which alone can quench his eternal thirst for joy!

And, oh Lord, let us be faithful to help him see the way to your waters!

Empower us our hearts’ to be a to the rhythm of “To live is Christ and to die is gain” so loudly that his own heart knows no other beat. In life and in death, I pray his soul treasure is you…and i pray he learns this because you are our sole treasure.

Father, use my life and death however you choose to point him and his siblings to this reality. May my life never give them the false impression that the things this world has to offer could be rightly called “gain.” If I gain this whole world, but forfeit my soul… I have lost everything!

May it never be!

Teach me to sacrifice all this world has to offer in order to purchase the pearl of your kingdom!

Oh Father, use my life in any way you choose to teach Asher the true meaning of his name… to teach him what true happiness is… it is you and only you!

This is my prayer that I lay before your throne with tears of sorrow and joy… sorrow for the world and the narrow way that I know Asher must endure… but joy for the person and prize that empower him all the way and await him in fullness at the end.

I boldly put this prayer before your throne with great confidence because I know I approach through the blood of your own son who payed the price for me to pray! I pray in power, because I know the power is not my own, but the very power of your Spirit working in me and praying for me even as my words fall short. He prays for me when I don’t know how.

So through your Son Jesus and by the power of your Holy Spirit… I pray for my son Asher… may he know the meaning of his name… may he know true, everlasting happiness in you.

Amen.

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