*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,
Our 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.
That 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…
Our 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 ministry! 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!
The 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!
This 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,