Disclaimer – This post is filled with feelings of lost. Understand that if you are looking for typical JKH writing, this is not it. This is dealing with intense feelings and will likely be updated as these feelings continue to be dealt with.
This morning, I woke up with high expectations for today. An Uber was scheduled to pick my family up from our hotel and take us to Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA; from there we would take in our first Braves game. It has been a beautiful day filled with laughter and sunshine. We heard a riveting example of John 1:14 at church. We shared in ridiculously large pieces of pizza and great tacos. Then, about halfway through the game, I was confronted by the enormity and finality of loss.
If one could add together the analogies of the feelings of being hit by a freight train and having one’s train derailed, you might get close to what loss feels like. And, as jarring as mine was, there are family members and friends much closer to the friend I lost than I, and my heart goes out to them. I pray for them in the aftermath of this loss that they will continue to feel more and more through the next few days, months, and years.
I had not talked to this friend more than in a few passing conversations on Facebook in a few years. Every time we saw one another, we embraced and were thoroughly glad to see each other. I kept up with him through social media. He did the same with me. Again, passing messages and participating in each other’s social media presences was the limit to our interactions for a few years.
We knew each other well when I was youth pastor at Duck Hill Baptist and he was a youth. We spent hours together each week. We talked about the Bible, movies, books, food, and life. We experienced joys together, and we experienced hurt and loss. When he was in trouble during his high school years and on through early adulthood, he knew he could call me and did when he needed me. We stood in ditches together with backward-facing cars in tall weeds. We stood together when parents arrived after the wrong place and time had been experienced. We rode together after vehicles had broken, even after our friendship began to feel a bit more distant. Then, he grew up, and I left Duck Hill. He grew up, and time and distance grew us farther apart.
I have reflected a lot on those years spent at Duck Hill, wondering where I went wrong. So many of those youth went their separate ways, and friendships began to become distant as well.
I was burned out at the end of my time there and did not realize it until I fully burned out in Picayune, moving back here hoping to leave ministry behind for good. There were so many battles fought during those Duck Hill years, so many foolish idols taking center stage instead of what was important. In the past, angrily, I have pointed the finger so many places, but the only blame I can place is on myself for being sidetracked by the idolatry of others and creating idolatry of my own. The fight initially took my focus, but I made it my focus all by myself. And a lot of kids I was responsible for discipling took on the fight themselves and lost a little in the effort.
God graciously redeemed my burnout and lit a fire in my heart that was never truly there in those Duck Hill years. I get to do all of the things that I actively did during those years. I get to lead worship, get to disciple, get to preach and teach the Word. But I do not get to fight any more. God has allowed me to get to make contact with many of those former youth from that era, including the friend that I lost. And I have gotten to reflect with some of them on how I feel like I failed them. But, now, I am thankful to begin to see how God has redeemed even my burnout. I am thankful I got to share that with my friend while he was alive.
I cannot un-live my past. But, praise God, He is redeeming my present and holds my future. I cannot un-lose my friend. But I can redeem the time I have with my friends.
If you are reading this and you were a youth when I was a youth pastor, I want to share with you what I was too foolish to understand then. I was never meant to be your primary example; I was supposed to point you to Christ. I was not supposed to be a role model of works-based theology but a living embodiment of preaching the grace of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
I find my older, present-day self thinking more and more of the value of Paul’s writings in 1 and 2 Corinthians, namely these two passages that follow here.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
During those years at Duck Hill, I pridefully built up a workaholic persona that was “wise according to worldly standards” but foolish according to God’s. I prided myself on how much of the Lord’s work I could do in my own strength only to find out that the Lord deigned sometimes to bless my work with His strength and all of the other times I wasted by showing works over grace. I boasted how much closer to God I was than those who touted their idolatry only to make an idol of the fight itself. Thankfully, he has allowed me to be broken to the point of realizing that I am only “in Christ Jesus” because of His grace, mercy, and love. I no longer want to boast in my strength because “what is weak” has shamed me. I no longer want to boast in my wisdom because foolishness has shamed me. I want my only boast to “boast in the Lord” and Him alone.
The second passage is Jesus’ words to Paul (and what Paul learned through the experience), recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
I cannot go back and undo my past. And I do not need to. My weakness, foolishness, and, yes, even my failures have been a proving ground for the grace of God. He has proven that He is enough while I am not.
It is tempting to make a plea to reach out and help those who I may have led astray following my early pastoral example. But my strength now is still weakness. But, praise be to God, I can rejoice in the words of Christ – that His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in weakness. Rather than pointing you to me for more foolhardy examples, I point you to Christ and boast in Him. I pray you are able to find Him.
If you are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, that is okay, too. Sometimes I get to write to get my feelings out because it is the only way I can. This is one of those times. I pray that God can use this foolishness for His Kingdom.