I Have Not Stopped Being Thankful

As many of you have already heard, I announced last Sunday that I would be leaving First Church, and have accepted a call to a church in Austin, TX.  Merideth and I, and the rest of our family will be leaving at the end of this month--my last Sunday is November 20th. 

So that means that I only have three more sermons to preach to you.  By my count I have preached 368 sermons since I arrived here on August 1, 2008.  I've said a lot of stuff. I can't even remember all of it, to be honest.  

But after all of these years it comes down to these three.  Three chances to tell you all the things that I haven't told you yet.  It's not enough, but it will have to do, and I aim to make the most of it. 

For the next three weeks I'm going to be working toward Paul's final, farewell address to the church at Ephesus--a church that he dearly loved, and said goodbye to one last time in Acts chapter 20.  But before we get there, I want to take a look at a couple of passages from Paul's actual letter to the Ephesians. 

Starting with Ephesians chapter 1:15-23 where Paul talks about how thankful he is for them, and the first things that he wants for them as a church.  

There are so many things I want you to know, but I want you to know first and foremost that I am thankful for you.  My sense of gratitude for all you have done for me and my family is overwhelming.  

I want to thank you for the freedom to be me...  

During my first year here I invited a professional masseuse to come and let me interview her on why getting a massage can be painful sometimes, but how that pain leads to greater health.  The sermon was about how to embrace what is new, and how painful change can be.  In the middle of the sermon I asked if anyone wanted a massage and Bobby Welter raised his hand.  So, Bobby got a massage while I finished my sermon--like a good fifteen minute chair massage in front of everyone.  It was magnificent. 

I know it ticked some people off--they didn't mind telling me about it. 

But the congregation as a whole didn't flinch--they embraced it, and embraced my often unorthodox ways of doing things.  

And then there was the time when I made a wager to get a tattoo and a haircut if you broke an attendance record at Easter.  I know there were some of you who just held your nose and went with it.  I'm grateful for that.  

I want to thank you for embracing my kids... 

You've always loved on my kids, never judged them, never held them to any higher standard as pastor's kids, and just let them enjoy church.  You have cheered my oldest son on in his endeavors, rallying around him, encouraging him and giving him the chance to preach here, serve here and learn to love the church here.  You've always let Jackson be Jackson--loving on him when he wears his various sports jerseys, giving him an opportunity to just be a normal kid in church.  And Jacob--Jacob whose birth was announced here, and who you have seen grow up into the fierce little six year-old warrior and goofball that he is.  

I want to thank you for loving on my wife... 

It's easy to do, really.  Honestly, she is the other half of my soul, and I would have never stuck out the hard times, enjoyed the wonderful moments or had any of the incredible experiences I've had here if hadn't been for her.  We are not your typical pastor's family.  And you all have loved Merideth for simply who she is---allowing her to redefine the role of pastor's wife, lovingly allowing her to shape it into something different, exciting, trail-blazing and awesome.  

I want to thank you for how you put with shenanigans... 

We've pushed the envelope from time to time.  From controversial billboards, to crazy events, ground-breaking ministries, and a host of other things.  It's been a roller coaster ride for sure.  But through it all you stayed with me, allowed me to guide you, walk with you and help lead you to the place God had in store for us all along.  

There's a lot to be thankful for... so much more in fact... 

I am so thankful for your willingness to do church differently.  True, there might be some of you who white knuckle the transformative stuff when it happens, but you hang in there.  You also have an incredible desire to serve that I am so grateful for as well.  We've shared this before, but over 90% of our folks are involved in some kind of ministry or mission.  

And I am also grateful for your openness and your diversity.  As a congregation you are not afraid of embracing everyone right where they are.  You are not afraid of people having different opinions and ideas--you make the space for those conversations to happen.  

As I consider all of these things, and express how thankful I am for you.  I also have a prayer that is connected with those thankful feelings.  It's something I want for you.  One of the things I want to share before I go.  

Continue being a unique, open Christ Community filled with—a Spirit of wisdom, Hearts filled with hope, and Resurrection power.  

In Ephesians 1:15-23 the Apostle Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus and addresses these very things with them--his desires for them as a church.  He writes, 

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 

Paul focuses on two things--their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all God's people.  Not too long ago I preached a sermon where I broke down what being a Christian was all about--"Love God, Love Everybody."  For Christians, to love God is to have faith in Jesus.  

Paul says "I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers." He wants to the church at Ephesus to know they are loved, and that they are prayed for.  This verse is the reason I sign all of my letters to the church, "You are loved and prayed for daily."  Paul was so thankful for them, so full of love for them and he prayed for them continually.  

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 

Here it is--the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.  Paul knew that he was going to be gone from them.  He knew that we wasn't going to be around to continue teaching and helping them see where God was leading, to help interpret Scripture, learn more about Jesus.  He knew that there would be other leaders, for sure.  But he wanted the Ephesians to have their own Spirit of wisdom and revelation, in order to discern God's will, to understand God's word and to see Jesus more clearly.  

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, 

I love the language here--the eye's your heart.  Like that old praise song, "Open The Eyes of My Heart" Paul wanted the Ephesians to develop a keen sensitivity to where the Spirit was leading them and to experience a new sense of hope for the future.  And what was this hope?  How is made manifest?

the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

"...the same power..." The hope Paul was talking about was Resurrection hope that is found when believers embrace the Resurrection power that is ours as followers of Christ.  We don't have to be afraid of tomorrow.  We don't have to be afraid of anything.  Because of Jesus, we know that we can take the worst the world has to throw at us.  

This is what I want you to know today as I sit here being thankful for you.  I want you to: 

Continue being a unique, open Christ Community filled with—a Spirit of wisdom, Hearts filled with hope, and Resurrection power.  

This church truly is church... done differently.  I am so thankful for that.  I've always wanted to pastor a church that I would want to attend.  This is a church I would attend if I wasn't a pastor.  

There have been times in my ministry career when I couldn't say that.  Don't lose this.  Don't stop being a unique, open Christ Community filled with a Spirit of wisdom, hearts filled with hope and Resurrection power.  

We are that kind of Christ Community.  People said we couldn't do it.  At least some people did.  

People said we couldn't feed our neighbors every week.  I remember someone who was opposed to us starting Center St Kitchen back in the day saying, "Are we sure we want those kinds  of people on our church campus?" Good thing we didn't listen to them.  We fed six people on that first day, now we feed hundreds a week. 

People said that we couldn't be the kind of church that did both traditional and casual worship.  In fact, more than a few people in the church said that--to my face.  Not only did we figure out how to do just that--and do it well.  I have pastors ask me all of the time, "How do you do that?  How do you get your different worshipping congregation to get along?"  "Simple," I tell them, "we just get it that people are different, and we focus on the things that matter--worshipping, praying, growing, loving and serving." 

People said we couldn't give away back to school physicals, "How is that going to work?" But we've been doing it for six years and have given away almost 1500 of them as we've reached out to our community.  

People said we couldn't have a conversation cafe where we talked about issues that you couldn't talk about in church.  "Who would come to that? How much is that going to cost?" You have no idea the kinds of things that people said about our Lifetree Cafe program when we first started it---now we have three of them, and there are nearly 60 people a week, many of whom don't attend church, who are having spiritual conversations with our church members.  

People said we shouldn't start a preschool, that it would cost too much, it would be too hard to figure out, there's too much red tape... Well guess what?  We're launching in August and we've already filled it up.  

People have told me that we couldn't have a Big Tent kind of church.  I've had church members leave our church because we refuse to be close-minded and define our faith in negative terms.  We've been mocked by some angry Christians for saying that we have open-arms and accept all people.  And yet, here we are.  A motley crew of people from all walks of life, political leanings, religious backgrounds, under a Big Tent.  Thanks be to God. 

Don't lose this.  It's worth fighting for.  

I am so thankful for who you are, for how far you've come.  My thanksgiving leads me to hope, the hope that I have for you.  

Continue being a unique, open Christ Community filled with—a Spirit of wisdom, Hearts filled with hope, and Resurrection power.  


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