I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Biblical story of Abraham but it starts out like this in Genesis 12:1 … “God told Abram: ‘Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.” Leave, say good-bye too, depart, and go away from “your country, your family, and your father’s home to a land I will show you.”
For my family and I, June 8th was the one-year anniversary of us leaving IN. June 30th is my first day at Grace Community Church in MD, but June 8th was my last official day at Grace Community Church in IN. Between you and me, that was a hard day. Carol and I truly love the staff and the people of the church, but I knew that my passions and direction in ministry were no longer fitting withing the church’s. It was time to leave. Carol and I knew that for sure. But, we certainly weren’t looking forward to leaving because there were so many people that we were going to miss. Our entire family was forged in the furnaces of Goshen, IN. We developed a history with many people. We had been through births and deaths, highs and lows, we rejoiced and we mourned with people for 12 years. We had a house we loved and it was probably 3 projects away from being the house we had always dreamed it could be. We had 2 acres of land, a John Deere tractor that I rode with pride, and a backyard full of memories. And, so saying good-bye to our home, our friends, co-workers, our ministry, people we invested in and our small group whom we loved … it really was difficult.
But, one of the most difficult things on that June 8th day was turn in my church key. That happened in the quietness of an empty building. We had left the church, said all of our good-byes, wiped away our tears, and then we went out for lunch. We came back the church a couple of hours later because there were still a few things left in my office that I needed to grab. The building was empty … peaceful. Carol and the kids were in the van and I was all alone. Before I left, I knew I had to turn in my key.
I shed a lot of tears that day, but surprisingly enough, turning in my key caused me to shed the most tears. I stood at our receptionist’s desk with my key in hand for minutes that seemed like hours. I could not lay it down. I know that may sound strange because it’s not like I had some special attachment to the key itself … but I think it was so difficult for me because of what that key represented. Not everyone had a church key. I was one of the few. So, in a sense, I was special. It represented who I was as a pastor. Part of my identity was wrapped up in that little key. It represented my livelihood. This key is how I paid the bills. It provided food, shelter, and security for my family. It represented the place where our family was established. It represented 12 years worth of relationships with people I loved. It represented everything that was near and dear to me. So, that key was a whole lot more than a key … it was my country, my people, my father’s household … and God was saying “Lay it down. Leave it behind. Say good-bye.”
So, I think to some small degree, I was able to experience what Abraham experienced when God told him to lay down the only place he had ever known simply because God had a new place to show him. “Leave everything and go to a land I will show you.”
But, what becomes clearly evident as you read the story of Abraham’s journey is that God had a whole lot more in mind than just showing him a piece of property.
Genesis 12:4 tells us that Abraham left and, because he did, he saw things he never would have seen had he stayed. If you decide to read Abraham’s journey in Genesis 12 – 25, you’ll discover that God showed Abraham His faithfulness to him even in the midst of his mistakes. He showed him His grace (Genesis 12). God showed Abraham that His faithfulness is not based on our faithfulness (Genesis 15) God showed Abraham circumcision (Genesis 17). I’m not so sure he was happy about that one. I could imagine Abraham saying, “Come on. Noah got a rainbow and I get this!” But, circumcision was God’s ways of saying, “You are marked as mine! And, because you’re mine, you have promises and rights and access to Me.” God showed Abraham that it’s possible to give birth even if you’re in the nursing home! He was 100 and his wife was 90 when Isaac was born (Genesis 21). God showed Abraham that He will provide a sacrifice (Genesis 22) and gave a glimpse of the sacrifice Jesus would make for us. We could go on and on, but the point is, I’m not so sure God called Abraham to leave everything he had ever known simply because he wanted to show him a piece of property. God had so much more in mind. But, Abraham would never have seen it had he stayed … had he not laid down his key.
And, again, I think to some small degree, this is what’s it’s been like for me the past year. God has shown me so much. In my mistakes, He has shown me His grace and His mercy. When I lacked faith, He has shown me His faithfulness. He has shown unspeakable generosity to my family. He has answered numerous prayers and shown me how to trust. He has not answered numerous prayers as I would have liked … and shown me how to trust. He has shown me that more right behavior plus less wrong behavior doesn’t necessarily equal Godliness. He has shown me that doing more does not mean that I am more … that He is more concerned with my character than my accomplishments. He has shown me my issues and my sinfulness … and His forgiveness. He has shown me that if I rely on Jesus’ finished work on the cross, I no longer have to wonder if God is happy with me or satisfied with me because my identity is no longer anchored in what I do. It’s anchored in Jesus. He has shown me what it means to persevere, to take a step at a time, and to not quit. I could go on and on, but the point is whenever I laid that key down and got in that moving truck and made my way East, I am convinced that God wanted to show me a whole lot more than the great state of Maryland. He wanted to prove Himself true to His word: “He restores my strength. He leads me on right paths to show that He is good.” (Psalm 23:3) I cannot fully express how grateful I am to have seen Him to be good. I pray that I will continue to be open to His lead and that my heart will be open to all He wants to reveal and that I will continue to see “the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
So, my encouragement to you is this … if there is a “key” in your life that you feel like God is asking you to lay down … it’s worth it. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. The key is probably different for all of us. It could be a relationship or a possession or a position or a want or a grudge or a demand or a sense of entitlement or a desire or a ______________. Whatever it may be for you, I firmly believe that God is so pleased when we place our trust in Him even when everything else in our life is screaming “Hold on to the key!” When you lay it down, you receive so much more because when your hands are no longer holding the key, they are open to receive what God has for you.