This past Sunday was my last Sunday as pastor of Hope Church. This Friday we are moving to Lacombe where I have the honour of becoming their next pastor beginning April 1. Saying goodbye to people who have become like family is always difficult, even while there is excitement about meeting new people and building new friendships. Here is what I shared with Hope Church on Sunday.
It's hard to believe that this is our last Sunday together. It's been an amazing journey being your pastor. You have all been part of making me into the pastor I am today; blessing me and my family, challenging me to be a better pastor through encouraging and sometimes even disagreeing with me. We walked through all those times together and now we’re here together and I can sincerely say that you are in my heart. Many of you have become dear friends to my family and I. We've laughed together, cried together and have grown deeper into our relationships with each other and I pray, with Jesus. This letter from Paul to the church in Philippi touches on what I feel today and what I wish to share with you this morning.
This is a letter of love and appreciation from Paul to the believers in Philippi. They’ve a long history of working with and supporting Paul in his ministry. Paul begins with a blessing, reminding them their relationship rests in their relationship with their heavenly Father and in Jesus Christ, "Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Paul offers his blessing to all the believers because he cares deeply for them. I can understand where Paul is coming from as I'm in the same situation in caring for all of you here. Our lives have become intertwined over the past 3 years, some more deeply than others, and I am blessed to have walked with many of you through both joy-filled and deeply sad times, trying to help you keep your eyes on God.
Paul talks a lot about joy, praying with joy because of their partnership together in the gospel. Joy is a key theme in this letter. This joy is rooted in their relationship together in Jesus. In John 15, Jesus talks about remaining in his love and experiencing his joy, "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." Later on, Jesus, when talking about going away, referring to his death and later return to heaven tells his disciples, "Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." It's through and in Jesus that our joy is rooted, knowing that Jesus loves us so much he took our sin on himself to the cross where he died for us so that we can experience the joy of forgiveness and grace as God’s children. Jesus went home to heaven to prepare for our coming home and to prepare for his return when heaven and earth will be one once again.
Paul's in prison as he writes this letter. It’s like a house arrest which allows him the freedom to still preach the Gospel to those who come to visit him. Yet in spite of being in prison, his thoughts are filled with joy because of his friendships with the believers in Philippi. Joy doesn't come from the things we have, it comes from the relationships we have. These make you rich, especially if they’re built in Jesus. I count myself a very wealthy person.
Paul's joy comes in knowing that God’s working in and through the people there. He knows that when God begins something, he carries it through until it's complete. God has plans for Hope Church; I see his work in you, transforming you into images of Jesus filled with grace, love, compassion and forgiveness towards others. I hear stories from people not from our church who know you and I hear of your sincere love and grace and I know that God’s just starting something wonderful here. I’ll continue praying for you as God works out his plans here.
It's good to feel this way. As Paul says, they're in his heart and you’re in my heart and we share God's grace together. We’re brothers and sisters, children of God together, forgiven, cleansed, redeemed, chosen and loved deeply. Over the past few weeks I've heard many words of appreciation from many of you and I want you to know that those feelings are mutual. This isn't meant to wash any difficult times away or forget those times when the appreciation on both sides might have been missing. After all, as Joyce will gladly let you know, I'm not always the easiest person to get along with. Yet we stuck it through those times and we grew together and I hear this truth from Paul as well. The Scripture describes the church as family, with all its blessings and warts, but often it's the warts that force us to grow more gracious and kinder. We've persevered together, but now it's time for you to carry on the work that God has prepared for Hope here while Joyce, Melissa, Real and I move on to follow God's call somewhere else.
Prayer is a big thing for Paul. It keeps him focused both on God and on his mission to share the Gospel wherever God leads him. Prayer is an important part of growing in faith and in your relationship with God and each other. When you pray for someone regularly, coming to God asking for him to work blessings in their lives, God creates love and appreciation for them, and you begin to see them through Jesus’ eyes and how he’s blessing you through them. Pray for the people of Parkland County, fall in love with them as God does. Paul mentions near the end of his letter to the Ephesians, "Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." Because you’ve been in my prayers, you’ve become precious to me. Seeing God work in your lives is one of the great blessings of being a pastor.
Paul's prayers are for those in the church; that they'll continue to grow in their relationships with each other and Jesus and be transformed more and more into the people God has created them to be, "that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God." Paul knows our identity comes from Jesus and God our Father while the Holy Spirit reaffirms this constantly in our hearts, minds and lives. His deepest desire is that they’re becoming more and more like Jesus.
This is my prayer for you as well. You’re precious to us and I want nothing more for you then to come so close to Jesus that he transforms your lives completely. This looks like your love for Jesus, for each other and for the communities God has placed you in, growing deeper, lived out with servant hearts and lives; transforming your relationships and neighbourhoods as God continues his work of transformation in you. I pray for wisdom as you move forward in the work God has for you here in the Parkland area.
Finally, my prayer for you is that you will continue to be filled with the fruit of righteousness in Christ and grow in your closeness with Jesus, in love, peace, joy, kindness, compassion, and a desire to share your faith with those God has put into your life. Peter in his first letter expresses what I know about you, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." I pray the best for you because you are in my heart and you have blessed me and my family so I pray to God to bless you as well. But in the end, my greatest desire is that God will be praised and glorified because of you. It gives me a lot of happiness to know that God may have used me in some of your lives to know him more.
May God give you wisdom and insight as you move forward in the work Jesus has here for you to accomplish; both within the church to look more and more like Jesus so that others might continue to find God at work through you, calling them into a closer relationship with him. Blessings my friends.