This message was presented on October 26, 2014 as the final message farewell to Grace – my beloved church for 22 years. May the Lord bless her.
The greatest day of my life came on June 26, 1970, a Friday night, when I trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Since, then I’ve had many wonderful days like December 7, 1977, when Barbara said I do and I’ll be rejoined to her in just another week. On July 1, 1982, our daughter Katy was born and I became a daddy, which I am still learning to appreciate more and more. On September 4, 2005, Katy married Matt Hazard and he became an integral member of our family who now has three wonderful daughters, Sarah Bell, Emma Joy and Liberty Grace.
There were also another couple special days. In January of 1988, I planted Heritage Bible Church in Minneapolis and merged that church into Grace Community Church in April, 1989, the same weekend a car ran over my leg and gave me a concussion. The devil was trying to stop that merger. But there was also a special day on Dec. 26, 1992, when I spoke at Grace the Sunday before Winter Camp. What an exciting time it was. Twenty-two years later, here we are, much older and wiser. Battle scars, defending against the enemy onslaughts have taught us how deceptive he is, but the truth is secure at Grace.
God uses memorials in significant ways. Acts 10:1-4; Matt. 26: 6-13; Ex. 3:10-15
What are my memories? 1 Thes. 2:17-19. I have many people to thank for my years of ministry at Grace. Some are now with the Lord, some have moved on and some continue faithfully serving at Grace. Larry Cooney, Rich Witmer, Mike Lawlis and Gary McCabe are the elders who are left from the original board 22 years ago, as I recall. You all have made a huge investment into Grace over the years and each of your wives have been instrumental also. Wanda has been in the treasurers position since that time, Jo Witmer involved in worship and other teams and teaching with youth, Carol Lawlis working with children, prayer and discipling and Cheryl McCabe actively involved in women’s prayer and outreach to visitors.
Rick Storm is the reason I’m standing here today. He’s the reason I received my first Sagamore of the Wabash award from Gov. Daniels. Rick made it possible for me to take my family on a sabbatical 12 years ago. If he had not written up the justification, I wouldn’t have been able to visit missionaries in Russia and Europe as well as see many cathedrals, cities and countries. Thanks for all your work in that process. I was in the middle of graduating from my Doctor of Ministry and starting War College with the Army and I needed a friend who denied himself, so I could bless my family.
Rick Storm, you are also the reason I’m here today, for after I resigned three years ago, you, along with Larry and Rich Witmer, asked me to come back. The concern was after I left Grace, the theology might be compromised. Thankfully, we are still very strong on our tenets of the Statement of Faith. You spoke up the strongest seeking to defend me during that evening on November 29, 2011. I appreciate how you have served as an elder and withstood some of the petty complaints made by sheeple of Grace. You and Carol have been a great blessing to me for the 18 years you’ve been at Grace. Do everything to stand firm and keep the doctrine of Grace true. Rich Witmer, you were part of that threesome and a friend for 22 years, serving on and off as an Elder since I came. You and Jo have always been dear for your military background, status as police chief and the fact that you were the preacher’s kid of my great friend Dick Witmer.
Dick and Pat, I love you both and have sought to honor you for your tremendous years of shepherding at Grace before my arrival. People do not know the spiritual battles that you both have faced and won, because Jesus Christ was your banner of love.
Steve Agal, I’m glad you are the interim pastor now, because you came to Grace as a seasoned pastor. Because you had already been through spiritual battles as a pastor of several churches, I knew I could talk to you. Thanks for leading, loving and nurturing the OWLS and now leading in Grace until the next pastor is chosen.
Matt Handy, Mike Monfreda, Doug Decker, Jeff Stevens, and Lamar Young, you men have been my co-laborers in the flock here at Grace. We sure have learned a lot together. We’ve learned how not to do things and we ‘ve learned how we can do things better. But most of all, I’ve learned I can count of you for your purity of devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. If people only knew how big the spiritual target was on your backs that the enemy is trying to shoot you down. Stand firm, hold fast to the faith, finish your course until the day draws near. Sheep will bite and devour, but you shepherd with firm love.
Zach DeHoff, Mike Rutherford, Fred Sudler, Brady Ball, Randy Greb, Fred Adams, Brent Hendricks; Bill Simpson; David Dale; DeAndre Hill; and Ken Nine, you are a great team for facility management. What a blessing you are and will be in the future. When I think about what I came to Grace 22 years ago and what this property looks like now, I know many men will long to be the pastor of this church. Yet, the facility only reflects the greatness of the people within it and their desire to make all things right for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many, many other deacons who have served in the past, who are all part of the legacy of what this facility is now.
Carol Storm, Sondra Belcher; Paula Dale; Shelli Engle; Keli Handy; Lindsey Lawlis; Sandy Dodson; Wanda Adams; Pam Rutherford Anita Stevens; Trisha Sparks; Lea Spence and Joyce Young are the current deaconesses and a wonderful group of servants doing what the men could never do with such mercy and compassion. Thank you for coming alongside so many at their times of grieving, but also their times of joy with wedding and baby showers, as well as for baptisms and in home care.
To the office staff, Donna Huff and Keli Handy, thanks for keeping Grace administratively on track. You are behind the scenes heroes who thanklessly continue serving for the sake of the Lord, rather than glory on earth.
To the ministry staff, Cristi DeHoff and Vickie Hovenstine, you are building on Pat Hillebrand’s Children’s Ministry foundation partnering with parents to help children on their adventure with the Lord Jesus. Thank you for your faithfulness and creativity.
To Mike and Mary Monfreda, thanks for reaching out to the youth. God is adding to your number and you are gaining a lot of experience. Praise God for all your helper staff who make that work possible.
Kristine Moreno, you are a busy gal as our custodian. Now that we’ve added Noah’s Ark, you have much more to clean and to stay on top of. You are a consistent plodder, seeking to honor the Lord Jesus by maintaining a clean facility. We still haven’t figured out how to keep the kid’s hands off the windows!
Kayce and Michelle, Noah’s Ark continues to grow. I would love to see this continue to grow and begin a school, but that vision is for the elders in the future. The Noah’s Ark Advisory Council, Vickie Hovenstine, LuAnn Young, Paula Dale, Pam Farrar, DeAndre Hill, Lamar Young and Rose Hartman provide the expertise, training and supervision needed for keeping Noah’s Ark on track.
Larry Hartman and your crew in the upper room are often taken for granted, except when something goes wrong and it seems like it has been years since you’ve had miscues. Jeff Spence, Kevin and Maria Via, David Dale, Caleb Haddon are all a part of the team that helps me communicate God’s amazing truth to Grace.
Gabe, what a blessing you are. For many years, I’ve been waiting for someone like you to come and minister music. I love what you and Kari Jo do. I can now say that Grace has the music that I love. It is hard to leave this. I love your enthusiasm, keyboard leadership and how you are forming a great team.
Anytime you start using names, there is always someone’s name that is left off. There are precious saints that I have not mentioned. They are key persons for me, like Jennifer Wilkerson, who edits important newsletters and specific blog posts. There are countless others of whom I am grateful, humbled to be able to serve with and mindful of their sacrifices at Grace. Libby Davis on communication team and many other teams at Grace. Bill Belcher making sure there was coffee for men’s prayer. Then the six guys that I met with for 8 years, Jon Lawlis, Matt Hazard, Eric Hotseller, Zach DeHoff, Lamar Young and Dave Moore. 8 years!
Vision: Rev. 1:12-19.
Let me encourage you with the future. God never takes away without a plan to give something better. There is a man, and hopefully a family, who in a short amount of time will sense that he matches your vision and direction and will accept your calling to pastor at Grace. He will come with strengths that I do not have. He will love you in ways that I’ve not been able. He will nurture you to the Lord Jesus far more effectively than I. Continue to pray for your Search Ministry and specifically Jeff Stevens as he leads it.
Our vision had been: Connect, Equip and Multiply. Connecting together to worship God; Equipping together in grace to be more like the Lord Jesus; Multiplying together with the gospel to reach the world. We’re doing quite well connecting together through the Belonging Class, Fellowship Groups and Home Groups as well as the Connection Team and the Ministry Fair, Thanksgiving Dinner and Church Picnic. There are many good relationships, but theology must always be more important for that is your connection to the Lord Jesus Christ.
We also do pretty well with equipping. We teach the word from the pulpit, fellowship groups, home group, men’s and women’s studies as well as the home group leader training events. We can improve with a laser focus, but there are many opportunities to “Grow in Grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus.”
The one area that I’d encourage you to consider is the area of multiplication. The only area that has multiplied is in the home groups. Pastor Gabe is heading up that oversight and training. I’d strongly encourage you to join the quarterly training events, even if you are not in a home group. That is the place where 80% of the congregation can learn how they can lead a home group also and be a part of the disciple-making process. It’s through home groups that soul care can best be ministered. I implore you to use that series in other fellowship groups, so that people can grasp the idea of coming alongside of others.
What are my memories? People and vision.
I know I need some time to chill and regroup before the Lord launches me into ministry again if He allows. I’ve affirmed to Barbara that we’d take time and get to know each other again outside of ministry. I’m so looking forward to that. I do miss her greatly and am thankful to the elders for their wisdom in sending me out west early.
The Holiness of God Is. 6:1-5.
Douglas MacArthur closed with these words in his final message at West Point: Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be-of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps. I bid you farewell.
I leave Grace with wonderful memories. My final thoughts as I cross the Mississippi River will be of Grace, of Grace and of Grace.
I’ve always enjoyed Bob Hope and his entertainment to the troops overseas. He died when he was 100 and left wonderful memories for most of us of clean living. Yes, under this self-disciplined exterior is a very sentimental guy who is so thankful for the memories. Thanks for the Memories!
- Thanks for the memory
- Of Sunday morning joys, little girls and boys
- Springhill trips and paintball hits and pitch-ins to enjoy
- How perfect it was
- Thanks for the memory
- Of counseling galore, prayer meetings before
- The messages, funerals and weddings out of doors
- How lovely it was
- Many’s the time that we feasted
- And many’s the time that we fasted
- Oh my, it was great while it lasted
- We did look up, and take the cup
- So thanks for the memory
- Of CAFÉ Euchre games, bowling on the lanes
- You might have been a heartache, but I’ll ne’er forget your names
- I thank you so much
- Thanks for the memory
- From wee church on the hill, to this palace frill
- That Great Lakes conference, and church growth of His will
- How pleasant that was
- Thanks for the memory
- Of thanksgiving dinners and preaching to sinners
- And three-legged picnic winners, dealing with the printers
- I thank you so much
- Thanks for the memory
- Of Christmas Eve s’mores, little boy that threw up on the floor
- Of business meeting snores all you people I adore
- I thank you so, so much.