The following is a personal letter I recently passed along to the hundreds of women and men among our older generations with New Hope Church. It gives a glimpse of a shepherd’s heart, the complexities of our day, and the gift which are our senior saints.
This isn’t your normal church letter. In fact, this note isn’t going out to the whole church, but just those of you who make up our most seasoned generations—those who might be in our King’s Folk Class or Heritage Worship Gathering or the like. I wanted to reach out—as your pastor and a friend to many of you—because of how often you are on my heart and mind. Even as this holy season is upon us, I am reminded how very thankful I am for you. Consider the following.
First, I really miss seeing you. I miss the hugs and the handshakes, the smiles and the whispers of encouragement. COVID has brought me much, much grief. I grieve for those precious people who have passed away because of it. I grieve for those who are ill, for those who have lost income, for students whose college lives are utterly disoriented, for retail and restaurant workers who are without jobs, for first line workers who must be exhausted, and for church activities necessarily reframed. And, I grieve the loss of seeing people I love. That means you. I miss you.
Secondly, I am sorry. I am so sorry that decisions I have made in response to the COVID pandemic have had such a restrictive effect on so many of you. I would love nothing better than for us to be hosting all our adult Sunday school classes, our full slate of worship gatherings, and the numerous come-together activities with which we are accustomed. When I first knew God was calling me into ministry I was so excited about studying and then preaching the Scriptures, and spending time with God’s people, shepherding them and caring for them. I never appreciated back in those earlier days the moments when I would also have to make tough decisions, some of which would create hurt or frustration. Please forgive me for the hurt that I know I have created with some of the decisions we’ve needed to make. Please know that such decisions aren’t made without much prayerful deliberation and care. But they can still hurt, and I want you to know I know that, and I am so very sorry.
Thirdly, you really matter. One of the pains about greater isolation and having things we depend upon taken away is it cons us into thinking we don’t matter anymore. But that is a lie from Satan’s pit. I’ve been thinking a lot about biblical characters whose lives were upended because of circumstances beyond their control. Joseph now in Potiphar’s house. Moses now watching another man’s sheep. David now hiding from King Saul. Jeremiah now in a muddy well. Mary and Joseph fleeing with baby Jesus to Egypt. Paul now under house arrest. On and on the Scriptures tell us of faithful people finding their lives upended, their routines rearranged, and their days seemingly more uncertain than not. And yet, in each story God proved faithful. He knew the names of these women and men. He saw them. He related to them as a loving and faithful God and Friend. He heard their prayers and responded accordingly. This is true of you, too. You really matter to God. And you really matter to God’s people. For those who have been praying, writing notes of encouragement, giving as you are able, calling neighbors to check on them, and so much more—you are making a difference! I have personally benefitted, and so have many others in our church and around our community and around the world. You really matter! Don’t let the evil one tell you a different story.
Fourth, like many of you, I’m really tired. I feel safe sharing that with you. The pressures of COVID and the restrictions and the necessary decision making has left me exhausted. As if that is not enough, the racial and ethnic challenges of our time, the political tensions that swirl around us, the growing economic uncertainties because of these things, and so much more, have left me spent. Intertwined with these issues is the reality that while there is so much encouragement, there are an awful lot of folks whose expectations—whatever they may be—aren’t being met. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:28, “and apart from those other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” I love what I do! I treasure being a pastor. But, like many of you, I, too, get tired. I guess I share these things for two reasons: one, so you’ll pray for me if you are led to do so, and secondly, so you know I hear you and see you in your own weariness. How thankful I am that in the midst of such things, God is faithful. As Paul goes on to say in the next chapter of 2 Corinthians, “But God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Next, God’s got us! John 16:33 finds Jesus telling His disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” These days are hard. I do not know how long we have to continue in the mode we are as a church family. We don’t really know what the near future looks like. But I do know that you and I are in the outstretched hand of a mighty and loving Lord and King who never, ever lets us go. You’ve heard me say many times what is my favorite promise in the Bible. Isaiah 41:10 finds God saying, “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, and I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” My dear friend . . . God has got us!
Lastly, I love you! I love you so much. I am so thankful to be your pastor and a friend to so many of you. I am grateful to laugh with you, cry with you, pray with you, hug you (when we can), and just be with you. I absolutely delight in being at your side; being a part of the New Hope Church family with you. But—and here is something utterly remarkable—my love is nothing compared to the love Jesus has for you. Never forget it! He loves you so much more. Indeed, in Isaiah 54:10 it is written, “’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” I love you, for sure. Oh, but how great is the love of Jesus for you. Nothing compares!
Bless you, dear one. Thank you for taking time to read what is on my mind and heart when I thank Jesus for you.