This past Sunday, April 6th 2014, Jenny and I said goodbye to Awakening Church, which has been our community and our home for the past two years. I will be transitioning to a new role at Westgate Church later this month.
We are incredibly humbled by, grateful for, and excited about this new chapter of life and ministry. But new chapters always mean the end of previous ones and this most recent chapter is particularly hard to conclude. We will miss our Awakening family, all that God is doing in and through them, and the gift of being able to journey with them. These were my final words to that remarkable kingdom community:
To my brothers and sisters at Awakening Church,
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me begin with the hardest thing I must say. After much prayer and counsel, my wife Jenny and I have made the difficult decision to begin a new chapter in our life. This means saying goodbye to this community, which has been our home for the past two years.
From the very beginning of this journey, Ryan has made it clear that a primary part of the ethos and culture of Awakening is that we will always choose what’s best over and above what’s easiest. He exemplifies this not only in his leadership as the pastor of this church but also as a friend.
A little while ago, Ryan received an email from Steve Clifford, the lead pastor at Westgate Church, asking if they could discuss a role for me there. The easy thing for Ryan to do would’ve simply been to say no. But Ryan chose what was best for me, both as my pastor and my friend. Long story short, after wrestling with countless thoughts and feelings, Jenny and I have come to the conclusion, with much clarity and peace, that transitioning into this new role at Westgate, while difficult, is best for us in this next season of life.
And so, for Jenny and I, today is a farewell. Today is our last Sunday with you.
In these next few moments, I simply want to do three things. I want to thank you, encourage you, and finally, offer a few words that I hope will push you forward into the future.
First, a few words of thanks.
This will sound a bit odd but in so many ways, you have nurtured and raised me as a pastor these last two years.
You gifted me with your grace, your willingness to take me as I am, with all of my faults and shortcomings.
You lent me your listening ears, time and time again.
You offered me words of encouragement when I was floundering in weakness.
You grabbed me by the collar and spoke truth to my face when I was immaturely wallowing in self-pity.
You received my words of admonition, even when they were sharp and painful.
You allowed me to take risks, make mistakes, and question things. You allowed me to be my curious and inquisitive self.
You loved my wife. You spoke highly of her. You welcomed her, befriended her, and invited her in.
You laughed at my jokes. You cried with me when I talked about loss, pain, and suffering.
You endured those terrible announcement videos on facebook in the early days.
You set up chairs, tables, lights, and sound equipment with me.
You schooled me in basketball, taught me how to use Instagram, and showed me how to edit videos.
You went to concerts with me, watched movies with me, had drinks with me.
You ate ridiculous amounts of tacos, burritos, Japanese ramen, and Mongolian BBQ with me.
Hector Mujica and Tyler Crist even went to Haiti with me and a lot happened there but what happens in Haiti stays in Haiti. I will say that there was a tarantula and an outhouse involved.
You shared your stories with me. You opened yourself up to me. You taught me new ways to be alive, to rejoice, to mourn, and to wonder.
For all this and so much more, THANK YOU.
Now, a few words of encouragement.
Many people have asked me over these last two years, “How’s Awakening?” And every single time I have struggled to answer because the question they were asking was very different than the question I was hearing. Most people were really asking, “How is the organization of Awakening coming along? What’s your attendance like? What’s your budget like? How many volunteers do you have? How many people are in small groups? Does your band sound like Coldplay or Mumford?”
But when I hear that question, “How’s Awakening?” I can only think of people. I can only think of you and how you’re doing. And not just how you’re doing but also what you’re doing and most importantly, what God is doing in and through you.
It has been a tremendous privilege and joy to watch as God works in and through you to accomplish some incredible kingdom things.
I’ve seen God move in and through your creativity. I can safely say that I have never been around a more creative bunch than you all. From designing to writing to playing music to all sorts of technical mumbo jumbo that’s way over my head, I have seen you leverage your creative talent and energy to reach people with the love of Jesus in fresh new ways.
I’ve seen God move in and through your relentless passion and generosity. This is a community that has no tolerance for what’s realistic. It wasn’t realistic to build a $15k well in Zimbabwe just three months after launching as a small church plant. But you raised almost $30k that first year and built two wells. After getting kicked out of this very theater less than a month into moving here, it didn’t seem realistic that we’d be able to earn trust and create a long-lasting relationship with Del Mar High School. But you loved and served this school, its teachers, and its students. You painted walls, built benches, renovated basketball courts and teachers lounges. You donated laptops. You started volunteering to tutor students during the week. And now, here we are, back in the theater, with the blessing and love of Del Mar. They are sad to see us go in August because they are sad to see you, each and every one of you, go. God did this work through your relentless passion and generosity. You allowed God to take a hold of your hearts, to leverage your time and talents, to plunge you right into the middle of the redemptive kingdom work he is doing, both around the world and right here in our city.
I have seen God move in and through your love. As a community, you have taught me what it means to love excessively and lavishly. You have celebrated well the many birthdays and weddings and new jobs and new babies. You have also grieved deeply – when cancer took away loved ones, when jobs were lost, when relationships came undone, when rejection spat in our faces. And in both celebrating and in grieving, your brought light into one another’s darkness by loving well. With laughter and with tears, you rejoiced with those who rejoice and you mourned with those who mourn. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12 that these are the markers of sincere and devoted love for one another. You have exemplified this in wonderful, life-giving ways.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote that, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” You are an extraordinary community of men and women who have chosen to be strong at the broken places. With your creativity, passion, generosity, and love, you are bringing hope and light to many who need it. I am inspired by you.
Finally, a few words that I hope will push you forward into the future.
Let me be clear. My job has never been to bring something from somewhere that wasn’t already here. My job from day one has been to simply recognize, accentuate, and name what has always been here. What has always been in you – the spirit of God, working, moving, and transforming each and every one of you to be agents of kingdom change in the world, here and now. So whether you’ve been here since the beginning or today is your very first Sunday with us, you are a part of something big here, something of scale. You are a part of a church that is on the move, following God into new territory, watching and working alongside as he awakens our city to new life.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 11, we read a story about a man named Lazarus. Lazarus was a beloved friend of Jesus. He falls gravely ill and two sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus in a neighboring town, asking him to come and heal Lazarus. Their exact words are, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
This is the world we inhabit today. Countless people in our city, in our families, amongst our friends, in our spheres of influence, are sick. The sicknesses vary – they are physical, emotional, spiritual, and all of the above. We know this because we too have been sick and still wrestle with some of these same sicknesses today.
But many of us have also experienced the healing love of Jesus. And many of us are here, in this community, a part of Awakening Church, because we believe that Jesus wants to heal us and every person on the planet.
We believe that pain and despair no longer have a stronghold over us.
We believe that life does not end in the grave.
We believe that an eternity full of peace and joy is available to all who would receive it.
We believe that the mission of the Church, first and foremost, is to confront death, embrace Resurrection, and declare aloud, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? …thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the story of Jesus and Lazarus, there is a turn for the worst and then a surprise ending.
Jesus doesn’t arrive on time. He shows up too late and Lazarus dies. They bury him in the tomb. Sadness and mourning overwhelm the people. When Jesus finally shows up on the scene and sees the grief of Lazarus’ family and friends, he takes a moment to do something unexpected. John 11:35 tells us that, “Jesus wept.”
Jesus steps out of his own transcendence and sinks into that incredibly human moment. He locks himself into the confines of our time and space. He weeps. He feels our pain, our hurt, and our loss. But that is not the end.
Earlier in the story, Jesus declares, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” And he does just that. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Jesus awakens Lazarus to new life.
And Jesus is still raising the dead today; awakening those who have fallen into the slumber of broken and shattered lives.
And so, Awakening Church, I thank you and I encourage you. But most importantly today, I urge and challenge you – continue to join God in the work of awakening this generation and this city to new life. Continue to give yourselves completely, without reservation, without hesitation, to this redemptive work that God is doing in and through you. Jump in, head first, with every ounce of energy you can muster, into the great, big, unfolding story of God happening all around you. Offer your hands and your feet, your hearts and minds, your strength and soul, to God and let him use you to do immeasurably more than you could ever ask or imagine.
It has been a privilege, an honor, and an unspeakable joy to have been with you. I will miss you. And I will be cheering you on, advocating for you, praying alongside you.
Grace + Peace to each and every one of you.