Yesterday, I was so blessed to be part of one of the best Christian witnesses and displays of Christ’s love I have ever seen or dared to imagine. Our vicar and his family, who have been with us for the past seven years, are all moving on and starting afresh in a new church, and yesterday being their last day with us as a congregation, we had the most unforgettable of times, as we worshipped God together as a family one final time, and afterwards, had a farewell party for them which showed and proved that God’s love conquers all and is able to do immeasurably much more than we could ever hope or imagine.
During the time this family has been in our village, there have been numerous people becoming born-again Christians, myself being one of them. We have had seasons of growth, seasons of harvesting, and equally dramatic have been the seasons of barrenness, the periods where we have felt the Spirit of God withdraw from amongst us, as we turned our focus upon ourselves instead of looking up to Jesus for guidance. We have had incredible highs, and heart-breaking lows. There have been disagreements, an ongoing battle of wills, endless tears, but also we have been privileged to see God at work in showering us with His unending grace to seek and grant forgiveness, to love unconditionally and most importantly, to be able to grow in character and in the fruits of the Spirit: gentleness, self-control, love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, faithfulness and goodness.
For many, the news of our vicar moving on, came as a complete shock and at a time when it was perceived by most that his guidance and leadership were needed in “our church” more than ever before. The problem is that as the congregation had become increasingly reliant upon the spiritual gifts and leadership of our vicar, many of us had taken our eyes off Jesus and forgotten that we are not to worship those whom God has entrusted with the stewarding of his church; we are not to make idols of those people whom God uses as mere vehicles of his awesome message of love and forgiveness to us, for they are a means to an end, not the end itself.
The word of God tells us to do everything as unto the Lord, for Jesus is the only KING, the only SAVIOUR, the only SHEPHERD, and it is only through him and not man that we will find our way to God and salvation. In the book of Samuel, 1 Samuel 10, 17-19, God spoke to the Israelites the following words, which in these past few weeks have been piercing through my heart, as I have come to realise I have committed the same sin as those before us in Old Testament times. God said to them: “I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt, and all the kingdoms that oppressed you. But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses. And you have said, ‘No, set a king over us.'”
What is my sin? Some of you may still be asking. Well, when I heard our vicar and his family were leaving us, I displayed the same attitude and lack of faith as those Israelites who, faced with the scary prospect of having to move forward with no leader at the helm, became self-obsessed and spiritually proud, and discarded and quickly forgot God’s faithfulness and His unfailing help in past times of desperate need, as a young child would discard a Christmas present he has only just opened, because his/her eyes are already set on the next gift to be unwrapped. I was angry, frustrated and quite simply, too self-absorbed to see what God was trying to achieve through such drastic measures. How offensive it must be to God when we put all our hopes, faith, and drive, in a person, a material possession, or anything else in this world which creates a wedge between us and our relationship with Him. Ministry also can become for many, and I have seen this first hand, the end itself instead of the means to an end. What may start with the purest of motives and for the purest of purposes, can so easily become entangled with our fleshly desires. What we may have started as an attempt to bring glory and praise back to God for all the wonderful things he has brought to pass in our lives, may turn poisonous and soon develop into just another attempt to exalt ourselves and all the things we are capable of doing, when in reality nothing could have been accomplished, had it not been for us finding unmerited favour with God and man. How easily we all forget the height from which we have fallen; how desperately corrupt and in need of grace we can quickly become when we take our eyes off The Cross, and we set our gaze and our hopes in the world.
In Samuel 8, 19-20, the word of God tells us that “The people refused to listen to Samuel. “No”, they said. We want a king over us. Then, we shall be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles”. You see, when we have this attitude and we harvest these feelings in our hearts, we are offending God on two counts: Not only have we replaced God with man, as we rely on man and not God to provide meaning to our lives and also a purpose, but also we are spitting back in Jesus’s face the sacrifice he made on the cross so that each and everyone of us could answer to the call of becoming a royal priest, a people to be his very own and to proclaim the wonderful deeds of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We reject the gift, which we did not deserve in the first place, of having a direct line with God and we reject also, the wonderful privilege of Him using us individually to accomplish his eternal purposes. Instead we turn round and hand over to someone else that wonderful opportunity of a personal relationship with Christ and the responsibility of spreading his message to those around us. God said to Samuel: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected ME as their king.”
Yesterday was a pivotal step in my journey of faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. The love of God which was exchanged amongst those present, both during the service and the farewell party, felt to me like a heavenly shower during which the presence of the Holy Spirit erased the hurt, the pain, the nastiness, the evil, the sin that had taken place as a consequence of us having put our hopes in anything or anyone other than Jesus. It was a time of renewal, and a time where the old wine-skins were finally shed so that the new wine can be poured in. For as long as I live, I will never forget the redemptive power God displayed in our midst yesterday Sunday 20th of July 2008.
Unfortunately, I have not got the update I need to insert this song in this post, but I urge you to listen on iTunes to “He was here” by Scott Krippayne, because what I feel as I listen to this song is exactly what I witnessed yesterday after months of turbulent waters. All is well that ends well, and yesterday God blessed this congregation and our now ex-vicar and his family, with the best possible end to a very trying season, and a simultaneously wonderfully joyous beginning to the next phase of our walk with Christ.
I am not very good at showing emotions in public and am now doing all the crying that I should have done yesterday, not to mention the tears I’ve cried in these last few weeks, even months, behind closed doors. I am still struggling with releasing this family which have brought so much joy into my life, and with letting them take flight so that God can bless others through them as magnificently as He has blessed me. But I know that so long as I grant Jesus that special and unique place He deserves in my heart, he will provide me with all the things I need to see me through this very sad and uncertain time in my life and the life of our congregation.
I am running on empty at the minute, so I’d better go and talk to the only One who can fill me with streams of Living Water.
Til the next time!