I haven't written lately. Typically when that is the first line of any post you can pretty much stop reading because what follows is a loose amalgam of what I've been doing. You'll want to read this though. I haven't written because this letter is hard to write. So, here it is:
An Open Letter to Riverchase United Methodist Church.
Dear RUMC Members,
Many of you now know that I will become the Chaplain at Birmingham-Southern College on June 1st. it is truly bitter sweet as my time at Riverchase Methodist has meant the world to me. When I felt called into the ministry several years ago I never realized I would meet such wonderful people following after the Lord.
I don't know how you summarize five years of your life into a simple letter. I'm not even going to try. But I can't "leave" RUMC without telling y'all just how much you mean to me.
First, I need to say thank you.
Thank you for letting me be one of your own. Left and right, young and old, in the Well or in the Sanctuary - people have claimed me. I have more grandmothers, big brothers, and friends than I ever could have imagined. I've laughed and cried with people who wanted me to be a part of their lives. In our sharing of each other I've made friends and family that I will have all my life. Cheryl and I haven't had kids but I feel that your offspring are mine. I don't know how to describe it, but the connection I have with folks at RUMC will only strengthen over the years. Yes, I'll be at BSC and won't be in RUMC's life all the time - but our God has a way of bringing people back together.
Thank you for helping me grow. I think back five years ago and I think to myself that the guy who started preaching in SDL received a LOT of grace. I mean, I've told so many bad jokes and yet people still come to worship (must be the music). In the past five years of my growth I realize I have not made it yet. In fact I've had several people say they "knew we could never keep you" - that might be true, but I can't emphasize enough that my time at RUMC has never been a "stepping stone" in my eyes. Sure, I came from another church and now I'm being called elsewhere. But God is always calling us into new things. My growth wouldn't have happened without the people around me growing with me. We are being called to bigger things with our God - for some of us that means leaving Riverchase but for others it means staying. Right now, I'm growing into being the Chaplain at Birmingham-Southern College and that would never have happened without Riverchase UMC.
Thank you for loving my wife, "from a distance" most of the time. When Cheryl and I got married many RUMC folks came to the wedding and were with us on our special day. Cheryl's calling keeps her in East Lake a bit, but that hasn't stopped y'all from asking about her, making sure I'm taking care of her, and loving on her when she is around. August this year will be 3 years married. RUMC will always be our first Church that welcomed my wife and loved her because I loved her.
Thank you for supporting and loving such a wonderful church staff. RUMC, I've been blessed to work with some godly people - many of whom I'm honored to call family and not just co-workers. These people still need your help. They still need your support and your encouragement. They will try to take the church where they feel God is telling them, and I hope you will listen to their leadership. They aren't perfect, however, so you'll need to help guide them occasionally. But mostly, I hope you'll have grace for them.
But the last thank you, and perhaps the biggest: Thank you for sharing the joy of Christ with me. I know I know, Pastors are supposed to do that for the flock, but seriously? I've been fed. You have renewed my hope in the Kingdom of God really changing this world for Jesus. God loves this world so much and your Church is helping Birmingham see that. There are people out there who don't know how much God loves them. They don't have any idea about who Jesus is and how he works. But if you can share the joy of Christ with me than you can share the joy of Christ with anyone.
Second, we need to say yes to God. Jesus sets us free from slavery to sin and death. Jesus calls us to joyful obedience in that freedom. Our freedom, our obedience, are one in the same. Through Christ we are allowed to truly have the ability to choose (regardless of circumstances). People, unfortunately, have a tendency to look for patterns. We look for security, comfort, repetition, and regularity. There are so many bad things that oppress ourselves and the people around us. We need to let those things go. We need to quit making excuses for our sins and for our hurts holding us back from looking like Jesus. But truthfully idols don't have to be "bad" things. "Good" things can be idols too. Anything I put before my God can be an idol. Sometimes saying yes to God means putting away our "good" idols.
If, at any time over the past five years I have hindered your ability to say yes to God, I'm sorry. But I've tried. I've tried to encourage you and point you in the right direction. I haven't been your savior because you don't need anyone other than Jesus - but I've tried to share him best I could. If I've helped you say yes to God - awesome, it's because God loves you so much!
I've been Methodist long enough that I've heard people complain about how they have had some horrible preacher and it is "his" fault that folks don't love the church. Well I'm completing five years of ministry in what might be (by my estimation) the closest thing I'll ever experience to a "perfect church." What do we say if under such great circumstances we still don't entirely look like Jesus? We still have work to do. No, RUMC is not perfect, but I hope we can continue to take our queues from the one who is: Jesus Christ.
So instead of a good-bye, I hope to say "see you later" because with our God that is how things work. In fact, since I'm still preaching in SDL until the end of the year, I'll see you this Sunday. :)
For all that has been, thanks. To all that shall be, yes.
Yours, In Christ,
Jack and Cheryl