LEADING FROM LOSS

When God Scripts a Different Plan

As I suffered through the post-op discomfort of a fifth and final jaw reconstruction surgery in February, it dawned on me.

God’s designs for my last years as my church’s lead pastor differed greatly from my deepest desires.

Who longs for a stewardship of loss, suffering, and pain? Nobody in his right mind.

Ernie Johnson didn’t. A friend of mine sent me his video story suggesting we share a lot in common. He was right. See for yourself.

For a more detailed version, watch here.

My hope for the end game was to lead from growth, gain, and mission. Instead providence scripted the opposite.

I’ve buried a son and a wife.

I’ve endured a pathological fracture of the right mandible due to osteonecrosis from radiation for head and neck cancer.

Jaw reconstruction has involved a total of five surgeries in Miami, a bout with osteomyelitis (bone infection), speech therapy, loss of all my bottom front and right side teeth, chronic drooling, impaired swallowing, and thousands of dollars of medical and travel bills not covered by insurance.

I’ve been in and out of the pulpit so often and so fast I’ve got chronic whiplash.

While recovering from the latest surgery, something else hit me. This year likely brings yet another loss–the end of nearly a two-decade investment in ministry at my church.

It’s time to pass the baton to a younger man. I have no doubt. It’s my idea and God may well have a successor on the immediate horizon.

Talking about succession the last couple of years didn’t faze me much. Theory is like that; reality is not.

I didn’t feel the loss coming. But now I do. I hope to navigate this loss like the others–with the help of God’s grace–as I have often blogged about in the past.

A few days after news of the transition went public, I received an email from a relative newcomer to our church. These words encouraged my perspective greatly:

I read about the big succession announcement in the E-news and heard about it last night at community group. Woah! I am selfishly so sad that you all are phasing out, but I feel like I can resonate on some level . . . and that I should be unselfish and rejoice with what God seems to be doing. Praying for you guys as this next year sounds like it will be filled with many changes and mixed emotions. Last night in community group, and the last few times, people have mentioned in conversation how much your sufferings have impacted their spiritual walks and worship of Jesus as they have watched the grace of God as you have walked through such hard providences. It makes me wonder if your lives as a living sermon illustration are the most powerful, though the most painful, sermon you could give. I have heard it said in community group multiple times how much power of the Spirit has come in your preaching over the past few very hard years. I think it all has been and is doing more than we could ever know this side of eternity. Praying that God encourages your hearts in this season.

That note goes in my “Why I Became a Pastor File.” A great reminder to say “yes” to the unscripted.

SDG

Question: How has God used the unscripted in your life to advance His purposes and grow you spiritually?

“SULLY” SENSATIONAL

Four Things Peacemaking Leaders Do Well To Imitate from Captain Sullenberger

Rarely do I want to see motion pictures in a theater these days. The dearth of redemptive films released lately disappoints a guy like me who relishes quality cinema.

alg-plane-jpg

No problem on that score with “Sully”–director Clint Eastwood’s riveting telling of the drama surrounding the US Air pilot who successfully landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009 after a crippling bird strike shortly upon takeoff.

This film moved me to tears at points. As I left the theater I asked the Lord why that was so. His answer seemed so clear to me. The main character, played masterfully by Tom Hanks, represents so much of the kind of man I desire to be as a peacemaking pastor.

These four virtues stood out along the 96 minute run time, which frankly felt more like half as many minutes to me.

One, humility. Though highly regarded by an admiring populace throughout NYC, Sully eschews the role of hero. “Just doing my job.” Effective peacemaking leadership which eagerly preserves the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace starts with this all-important virtue (Eph. 4:1-3).

Two, patience. Much of the film’s tension in storytelling surrounds the aftermath of the crash as the NTSB investigates the details of the event. The search for error on both pilots’ part resulting in the water landing rather than returning to La Guardia airport leads to insinuation of fault at best and outright accusation of blame at worst.

Not once does Sully lose his cool. He even intercepts the rising irritation on his co-pilot’s part before emotions can escalate unhelpfully during their public hearing. Peacemaking pastors must model a patiently-enduring-evil-self-control or risk losing the reconciliation effort due to their own sinfulness (2 Tim. 2:24).

Three, love. One of my favorite moments in the film comes near the end. A reporter asks how Sully did the feat never done before. He immediately responded, “I didn’t. We did it, all of us.” Then he proceeded to rattle off the litany of names of the crew, the first responders on the scene, citizens of the New York City, etc., praising the efforts of others in partnership that remarkable day. Peacemaking leaders affirm others and deflect attention from themselves for the greater good (Phil. 2:3-4).

Four, perseverance. The man never caved under pressure. He pursued the truth in love at every turn. Perhaps the most compelling scene for this pastor came on the downed plane apparently empty of all 155 souls on board. The intensity with which the captain searched the fast-flooding plane to make as certain as possible all were accounted for before he abandoned the aircraft inspired me. I immediately thought of Heb. 13:17. Peacemaking pastors who will give account to God for the souls on board their churches must exercise a similar resolve to do all they can for their welfare.

Check out the trailer below for a sneak peek.

I intend to see it again with my co-pilot, Pastor Mike, to compare notes about how we can become become better peacemaking leaders from this powerful example.

How to Successfully Run the Marathon of Faith

This morning’s message by Kevin Wilhoit from Heb.12:1-3 is now on the web. You can listen to it here.

Kevin is a summer pastoral ministry intern at Orlando Grace working on his M. Div. degree at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando.

His proposition and main points are as follows:

Because we are weak and easily discouraged in our Christian life, we must run with endurance by embracing God’s provisions for perseverance.

They are two-fold.

First, the example of numerous champions of faith in the past. Kevin made application as to the importance of reading Christian biographies to this end.

Second, the ultimate example of Jesus Christ and His supreme excellencies, the only motive and means for endurance. Kevin stressed the importance of savoring Jesus as more than an example from which we should just get tougher in dealing with encouragement; he pointed us to the power of the gospel in our everyday experience.

He closed with this quote from the Puritan, Matthew Henry:

“The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”

May we all look to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith as we run the race set before us!