My Dear Friends, June 2021
This will be my last contribution to the EBC monthly newsletter. 6 June will be our last Sunday at EBC; sometime during that next week we’ll be driving on I-90 West en route to Colorado.
At this juncture, my heart is mixed with gratitude and sorrow. And yes, some regret too. I’ve made mistakes big and small while pastoring EBC. If I would write a memoir of this period, I might borrow a title from Muggeridge, which I think he stole from Shakespeare: Chronicles of Wasted Time.
But in this letter, I’d like to list some things that I don’t regret, choices that I’d readily make again. Note: If these words are many, and run up against self-indulgence, I do entreat your patience.
- I didn’t keep it up the whole time I was in Boston, but I don’t regret the time I spent physically exercising. I got (for me) exceptionally fit a couple times over the years: preparing for hiking in CO and a couple of half-marathons. But here, it’s not those peaks of fitness that I’m talking about. No, the good thing that I’m referring to is the habit of lifting weights at a fast enough clip so that I break out into a sweat that saturates at least half of my t-shirt. 45 minutes to an hour/day. The benefits to me were not the washboard abs or veiny forearms but – for lack of a more precise term – HAPPINESS. Strain and an elevated heartrate and perspiration set me right psychologically. During coronavirus I added to this rigor (such as it is) 1.5 minutes of a cold shower. Step out of a cold shower taken after a vigorous workout and I challenge you to feel unhappy about anything.
- Almost from our arrival to the church the corporate prayer meeting was chiseled into the weekly calendar. I don’t regret a weekly prayer meeting. Brothers, I don’t know how well we learned to pray, but I guess any prayer is better than no prayer and more prayer better than less. Even if we never got beyond prayer that was halting, flat, formulaic (and maybe we did) – we were praying hey! I also liked the fact that every week we started from scratch and solicited prayer requests…prayer is hard enough without having to wonder if the request being offered up is still relevant.
- I’m suspicious, even cursorily dismissive of almost all theological fads. And it seems to me that it did become trendy in the last decade+ to tout the importance of Christians eating together. Well, I’ll be – of this fad I fully approve and think it should stick around! Which brings me to my next satisfying recollection. I’ve a poor memory so maybe there are exceptions to my next bold statement. But here goes: I don’t regret any of the get-togethers in our home over these almost 16 years. You won’t believe how much fun…joy our family had hosting Christmas/New Year open houses. We loved getting the house and food prepared. We’d bet on who would arrive first. We’d sit around the living room and look out the window and wait. Then when the doorbell rang, we’d open the door coolly, pretending your arrival didn’t mean so much. One meal in particular stands out in my memory: it was a Friday evening in February. Our table had as many leaves as it could take. Only adults were gathered around (where were the kids?). I don’t even remember who all was there – think I do recall Richard Chang sitting by me. The conversation was good, a lot of laughs, candlelight, outside was outside and we were inside – beautiful. Holy perhaps too?
- Every year VBS approached Tonia and me like the Grim Reaper and we began VBS week with dread. [Disclosure: this was probably because we felt ill-prepared and/or our preparations had come all at the last minute.] Funny thing though: as the week wore on, our spirits lifted and by Weds or so we began to love what was happening around us. [Full Disclosure: that we were approaching week’s end might’ve had a little something to do with our growing enjoyment]. I don’t regret leading VBS. Particularly I don’t regret teaching hymns to the children at VBS! Generally, I don’t regret any time spent with the EBC children. As the years pass, I’ve grown to like and enjoy the kids more. And more. (Perhaps that’s because most of my children have grown and I’m out of the “chaotic years.”) Children are interesting conversationalists. They like to talk about things I like to talk about: what are you reading? How do you spell ‘bridge?’ (I can talk this stuff all day.). Their prayer requests helped this pastor understand more of their home life than almost anything their parents ever communicated (!).
- One benefit of leading VBS was working alongside the teens that week. Again, appreciating what I had been given with these teens’ help was a process, a kind of sanctification. The first couple of years I found myself impatient with them; I’m ashamed to say at least once I lost my temper when (in my view, they probably saw it differently) they were scarfing down the snack food and letting the kids run amok. But by our last week of VBS, Tonia and I were thoroughly enjoying working with the teens (and college students), indeed were turning most of the work over to them (we confirmed that Anna Beth is an efficiency ninja+; in fact, go ahead and start practicing saying “Madame President” when you’re around her). I don’t regret any time spent with the teens of EBC. The couple of trips to NYC that I accompanied will be cherished memories.
- If you stay at a place long enough, you’ll see people come and go. On this overcast day, I sit on my couch and think over the years, and many faces and names pass through my mind. It pains me to say it: more than a few left the church a little frosty toward me. Something I came to perceive toward the end of my ministry here: I enjoy people and the Bible and teaching. But I never did fully develop the soul of the shepherd who leaves the 99 to go after the one. When I saw someone drawing back, perhaps nursing a grudge toward me, my regular thought was: they’ll snap out of it… or they won’t. “Let nature run its course.” I’m thankful that by some grace of temperament and who knows whatever else, I’m not given to bitterness. But I regret what is perhaps the flip side to that: I’m also a little callous toward suffering and wounded saints. Anyway, so what’s the thing I don’t regret here? I want to publish that I don’t regret coming across and working alongside all whom God has brought to EBC these past 16 years. The living God, the Resurrected Christ brought us together for a time, and I’m the better for it. THANK YOU, EBC BROTHERS AND SISTERS, PRESENT AND PAST, QUICK AND DEAD.
- Finally, I don’t regret the wife that labored alongside me these years. Yes, labored. Labored. I’m ashamed that much of her labor was in tearing up my resignation slips, when, like a big baby I’d come to her complaining about something or other, telling her I’ve reached my breaking point, and she’d say, “Nein, you haven’t.” Tonia has been a skilled and attentive hostess, an organizer, a friend and confidante to me and others, an adviser who regularly pushed back at me, and then occasionally and wonderfully would drop a word of encouragement that put new wind in my sails. It is a great blessing from the Trinity to now enter another campaign with a trusted comrade still by my side. I love you Tonia!
Most of all, thank you, my Abba, for telling me in many times that You are for me in Your Son. You’re sure You know me, right? Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your long-suffering and mercy…and friendship. Thank you, sent-out Spirit, for giving me words to proclaim Your Word, even if more often than I’d like not till early Sunday mornings.