Over the last couple of years, the Lord has been preparing Kathryn and I for something that we did not see coming. I have served all 26 years in which I have been a pastor in the great state of Texas, my home. We have been at Holy Cross in Arlington for over 15 years. In the last two years we went through Call process after Call process many times with many churches from coast to coast, outside of the state of Texas. All of these were a surprise as I have never sought to leave Texas.
In November I received a Call to California (Yes, the place that so many folks are leaving because of cost of living, crime, wildfires, homelessness, and poor governance. All of which are on the increase.) Still, when God says go, you must go.
One of my favorite brief devotions of all time is in the compilation of morning and evening daily devotions by C.H. Spurgeon. Specifically, the evening devotion for February 25th, addresses Jonah 1:3 “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord” [ESV]. The devotion considers the consequences of Jonah’s disobedience in shirking his responsibilities of serving the Lord as well as his self-centeredness in trying to flee from the presence of God Himself. The very name of God, Immanuel, reminds us that God is with us. We cannot continue to “kick against the goads” Acts 26:14b [ESV] and seek to go our own way and at least metaphorically run from God. We need to yield ourselves to God and remember that “God is with us,” Immanuel.
Our Holy Cross church family is in a great place. We have wonderful leaders, skilled musicians, a growing number of members (even in the midst of Covid 2020) and we are blessed in many ways by God.
In meeting the congregation of Immanuel, Redondo Beach the verses come to mind from the Gospel of Matthew 9: 35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” [ESV].
While the people of Immanuel RB are not harassed and helpless, they are in fact very talented and dedicated, I still saw them as sheep without a shepherd. They have been without a pastor for several years. Though small in number, having once been a large congregation, they have great potential to become one again. Micah 5:2 “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” [ESV]. They need a full-time pastor to pivot around and tie all their gifts together and bless their community and themselves. California is also no Tarshish, any more than any other place fits the example of being Tarshish as well. It is a beautiful land filled with many good children of God.
So, God said this is where I want you to be. And the result is that Kathryn and I are going to be moving to Redondo Beach, California and joining the family of Immanuel Lutheran Church. We are filled with sorrow in leaving our family of 15 years at Holy Cross, we love the folks here so much and feel that love in return. But we are also excited about joining together with the wonderful people of Immanuel in Redondo Beach and being a part of the work of the Lord there. God will bless all of us. He is “with us”. Holy Cross, Immanuel, and Kathryn and I will all see the work of the Lord in and through us as long as we seek to continually, faithfully answer His Call to us. God has done great things and there are great things ahead.
That famous Christmas quote seems most appropriate here, “God bless us everyone.” And we know that He will.