First day in the office at New Hope 1999
11 Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you. Our hearts are open to you. 12 If there is a problem between us, it is not because of a lack of love on our part, but because you have withheld your love from us. 13 I am talking now as I would to my own children. Open your hearts to us!2 Cor 6:11-13 (NLT)
That was the text I preached on this morning. It's appropriate for today since it deals with the heart of the one they call the pastor - his heart for the people God has placed him within to serve and to love.
I was called as pastor in July 1999 and we moved down here in August - the 19th to be exact. What a ride it has been.
It is hard to really grasp what's happened in my life, in the life of my family, and in the life of our New Hope family in the last 12 years. People forget sometimes that the pastor is subject to the same frailties every other human being wrestles with. My perspective on what's happened can change depending on how I'm feeling physically, emotionally, or spiritually. I can be amazed and elated over what God has done in and through the lives of the people I love, or I can step into the shadows and only see what's been lost. I'll try not to go there tonight.
2001 after an evening service
This is a job beyond the ability of anyone, regardless of how well trained or how gifted. You literally can do everything right and still find yourself marked as wrong. The one I will always remember is being up at the church one Saturday afternoon cutting the grass and being told by one senior saint who had been my strongest supporter when I was called but had reconsidered :) - "You know if we had more men in this church the pastor wouldn't be cutting the grass" followed by "and you are cutting it too short."
God bless her, she's with the Lord now - do hope the grass is to her liking up there.
Sean and Me in 2004
I've probably rejoiced too much when people chose to unite their hearts with us in service of God through New Hope. Why do I say that? Simply because I take it too hard when people have to (or decide to) leave. It's just the way I'm built I guess. There's a personal loss and then the greater - "How will this affect New Hope?" Because for me, New Hope is more than a job - this is my life's work for the last 12 years. I have given everything I knew how to give to those in my care. So yeah, it hurts when they leave.
I once had a deacon and Sunday School teacher hand out his reasons for leaving on a Sunday when I was away in Georgia preaching a revival. I managed to get back that evening before the Sunday night service was over. In those days we had our sound equipment off to the side in a room we now use for our Child to Child girls ministry. I slipped in, listened to the sermon and after the invitation walked out to be told about the departure. "We just don't agree on the direction of the church," he said. "Oh and happy birthday Brother David." Yeah, that stung.
During the 12 years, I've had the honor of officiating at the wedding of my son Adam and his beloved Shonda.
Done a few other weddings including that of Robert Hughes and Jewel Cutchens, senior saints who found each other in their latter years.
Just sent Jonathan and Heather McGee out into the river of life last weekend. Most all have made it, but not all, and I hate that.
These Guys Have - Nate and Amanda
Funerals have been a part of the 12 years too. To me it's a high honor just to be asked to put a frame around the life of someone's loved one. So when I was asked to say a few words about my Aunt Geneva, or try to put my Father's life into perspective, I stuffed my grief in a box and did it. But standing by the tiny grave of our only grandchild - our granddaughter Ana - ripped my heart and tested my soul. Still, God gave me the strength to let everyone there know of His love for that little one, and for all who were there.
I've even performed funerals for furry loved ones on occasion. Those of you who have pets and have lost one to death understand exactly how much it hurts. We've lost three awesome dog/friends to death while we have been here. The last one, Henley the Great Dane - losing him broke our hearts. We still grieve that loss. If it happens to you, and you want someone to help you through - I'm your man.
But if you know me, you know I'm not into numbers. I'm into hearing about what God has done.
I love stories - stories of how God came into someone's life.
Kylie Quinnell Became A Christian That DayStories of how a small church had an impact around the world as a group of little girls led them to care.
Stories of how a couple of men who love to work with boys have poured themselves and their values into scores of kids.
|Joe and some of the boys|
Stories of people serving the neighborhood,
serving in KY, in WV, in NOLA, in Nigeria and Guatemala - all the while giving so that others could serve where God had called them.
To those of you who joined us on the journey, my heartfelt thanks.