I RELUCTANTLY RETIRED FROM THE PASTORATE IN THE SPRING OF 2018. I say, “reluctantly” because I loved my job. It gave me a great sense of purpose. But I needed to retire to make room for younger talent. I planted the church in 2002, and I needed to retire to insure an orderly secession of pastoral leadership.
However, retirement posed new and unexpected problems. Since my conversion at age 22 my single life purpose has been promoting and building up the kingdom of God. I have served as a worship leader (twenty years), small group leader, Elder, and contributor to the Sunday morning preaching (thirty five years). In addition I was a church-planter and lead pastor (the last sixteen years). I also wrote books and articles (the last twenty years). This was why I got up in the morning.
In all of these duties I found tremendous meaning. Sometimes it was difficult. Sometimes it was joyful, but the bottom line was that I felt that I was doing something that had eternal significance.
This is why retirement became a stumbling block. I was lost. My work for Christ and his kingdom went went from seventy to zero in a few short weeks. I found myself permanently parked in the garage. At first the rest was a welcome change, but after a few months I became restless.
One year has passed, and it has been one of the most difficult of my long life. The last thing I wanted retirement to be was the end of meaningful labor for Christ and his kingdom. So Judy and I prayed, and God heard our prayer, but the answer was the last thing I expected.
God often makes us eat our words. For years Judy and I were determined not to be snowbirds, retirees that went South for the Winter. Rest and relaxation, we reasoned, was for the world to come. Our last decades should be a time of fruitful labor. However, with nothing better to do, and looking for a place to serve, that is what we became, snowbirds.
It happened this way. Our dear retired friends, Dick and Paula Cullen, have a place in Sun City, AZ, just outside of Phoenix. They were rock-solid members of our church plant in Spokane. “Why don’t you come down and join us,” they asked? “We are in the midst of a large Senior population. Many are Christless. Let’s plant a church or do a Bible study and see what happens. The needs are great.”
So, we spent January and February in sunny Phoenix. (Someone has to do it, right)! The first two weeks we huddled with the Cullens praying, planning, and preparing. Having spent several winters there Dick and Paula had a long list of friends, mostly unbelievers or marginal Christians. We decided to call our event “Wine and Bible.” Dick sent out roughly twenty invitations. We bathed them in prayer and fasting. Then Dick courageously followed up with a personal visit. His outreach was both courageous and fruitful.
About twelve people responded. Each week Paula hosted an amazing main course. Others brought a dessert, salad, or rolls. Judy and I provided the wine. Each session started with a meal together. This was important because it gave time for friendships to bud and grow. As the weeks passed, these relationships became an important bridge of trust over which the gospel would travel.
Believing that conversion is a supernatural event, and trusting in the power of the gospel (Romans 1:15-17), we hid nothing. Instead we told them the truth about sin, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, and the wonderful gospel which saves us from these realities. We laid it all on the line.
The first night we read Isaiah six and talked about the holiness of God.
The next week we read Isaiah 53 and explained penal substitution. Dick suggested we get T-shirts with SCBS, Sun City Bible Society, printed on them. It became the official name of our little group.
The third week we read Philippians 2 and detailed the miracle of the Incarnation.
In the fourth week we read, explained, and applied Matthew 27:24-66, the story of the crucifixion.
The fifth week we read and explained the resurrection story from Matthew 28.
The sixth week concluded with 2 Peter 3 describing the New Heavens and the New Earth.
The members of our little group were from diverse backgrounds. Some attended liberal mainline churches, some hadn’t been to church in many years and another, a reformed alcoholic, told me that his God was the God of A.A. One of the men, who had attended a liberal church for fifty years, said openly, “I wish I could believe this stuff.”
Amazingly, all but one couple faithfully returned. They asked intelligent questions which Dick, Paula, Judy, and I attempted to answer. I could sense God opening their hearts and stirring hunger.
Sadly, Judy and I had to leave at the end of February, but we were not ready to go. God had given us a love for these folks and we were enjoying great fellowship, making friends, and feeling useful again.
I think the members of SCBS felt the same way. So, after Judy and I left, they continued to meet during March and April. Dick and Paula led them through Christianity Explored, an introductory course for new Christians. Dick and Paula were the perfect couple to lead. Their knowledge of the gospel and genuine warmth are magnetic. Although Christianity Explored repeated some of what we had already discussed, it was still helpful, and the group was thankful for the repetition.
And so, God made us eat our words, and we are thrilled that he did. We are going back next Spring, and only God knows what new adventures await us. What is the moral of the story? Never say “never” to God. You might need to later eat your words.
As always, your comments are greatly appreciated.