Tonight, Rebecca and I, and our four kids, received a delightful farewell celebration from the Oak Park Church Of Christ. For the past 12 years, we have had the privilege of “doing life” with this community! Oak Park is currently the healthiest and most loving congregation that I have known and they put it all on display this evening. My family was showered with kind words, funny stories, beautiful music, timely gifts and the incredible power of being sent forth with their blessing. In a world where so many things seem to end poorly or simply “peeter-out,” we were instead able to conclude our season of ministry here with only deep gratitude – and that is a treasure!
We are (still) at a time in history when “the church” is frequently criticized as irrelevant, dysfunctional and judgemental. Many have stopped attending or contributing to churches because they have been hurt or grown disillusioned. I get that. Certainly, it is easy to see the deficiencies in most any religious organization. However, after intimately knowing this church over a long period of time, my perspective is quite different. Oak Park Church is a place where broken people are being accepted and welcomed, where the lonely and doubting are offered safety and hope, and where love is freely and concretely given. I have experienced first-hand the power of God to change lives, transform relationships and bring healing into deep pain. I now know that when the Message of Jesus is declared, and lived out, it is able to connect to the deepest longings and needs in every one of us. That connection is a force so powerful that it enables a local church to become a catalyst to alter the history of humanity in ways that that politics, education and technology never will. To put it another way, this congregation is an outpost of the Kingdom of God – making real the presence and invitation of Jesus to those around them. After 12 years as their Senior Pastor, perhaps the greatest thing I can say about this congregation is that it has deepened my faith in, hope for, and love of, Jesus Christ and his followers.
And now, we conclude another season of ministry with much thanksgiving and many precious memories, and move into our next Kingdom assignment. We place our trust in the God who has once again proven Himself faithful in the joy and in the pain.
Aslan is still on the move… and we have been given the strength to follow forward.