You Are Not Alone

For those of us who are around my age, you probably read the title and thought of the Michael Jackson song. Sorry to disappoint you, but this post is not a tribute to him, as we come up on the anniversary of his death. (And it could be worse, I could have made a reference to Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now. Then, you would have that rocking synthesizer music in your head all day.)

image courtesy of Shahram Sharif via flickr

Instead, this post is about something I’ve touched on already — the sense of isolation that I tried to explain to some college students who were here on spring break.

The Path of Isolation
In January, everything happened so fast. I interviewed on a Wednesday, received an offer on Thursday, and started on Monday morning. All of the sudden, I was in a new town, in a new job, with no family, and only a few acquaintances. Yes, God worked to provide some community for me, but it was nothing like what I was used to. The hardest was being apart for my family (13 weeks in all!), as I lived down here during the week in my homes away from home, and commuted back to the Upstate most weekends.

I was so busy at first that I didn’t notice what I was lacking. It just creeped in. But then I noticed that whenever I drove down a certain long-stretch road, I would get emotional at the same spot. I realized that I missed the teams I had worked with for 4 years on staff at Grace Church; I went from playing “football” to “golf.” I love playing football; I hate playing golf.

Drawing Me to Him
But in all this, God was speaking to me, exposing my heart, and drawing me to Him.

In my times with God each morning, I had been reading through Genesis. God reminded me of the faith of Abraham, following the call of God to a far away land. God showed me His faithfulness to Isaac, providing a wife, two sons, and the same promise He gave his dad. God comforted me with Jacob’s story, a story of struggle that led to a new name and intimacy with God.

But Joseph’s life really hit me. He spent years (not just the weeks I did) alone, with no family, no friends, being abused and accused, forgotten over and over again. That is, forgotten by everyone except God.

“God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  (Genesis 50:20)

Joseph clung to God. He had no other choice, and if there was another choice, this would have been the best one anyway. His hope was in the sovereign Lord, who worked through his struggles, in order to bless his family and his culture.

Not Our Story
Over and over, family and friends energized us with their encouragements, as they shared how much they admired our this new adventure and mission for our family. But we know that our decision to come here isn’t quite as romantic as it may sound. God had to shut some other doors pretty hard to get us to the point of even thinking about Allendale (I first mentioned that here, but it’s another story for another day). We had to yield to Him.

Over and over, as people encouraged us, we were reminded that this adventure is not about us. It is God’s story. God is working in Allendale, and God is working in our family, and it just so happens that He would have those two paths come together. As a good friend of ours recently wrote, This Is Not About Me.

Think back to Joseph. He led the way for his family to live in Egypt, so they could live. Joseph’s faith in and commitment to God made it easier to see God’s hand.

Grace Church has made a path before us, and we are just another wagon on the trail. I have been worshiping and growing as a part of this church for 15 years now. I have been pulled along for all that time by great leaders; it is an honor to have the opportunity to pull along others.

Remember, the the gospel message is God’s story, not ours.

What Does This All Mean?
We were at a leaders’ retreat a few years ago, where one of the teachers talked about our growing church. Grace Church now has three campuses with six services, partners in Nicaragua and Kenya, missionaries in Eleuthera (and us in Allendale). I don’t see so many of the folks that I used to. But we are still one church with one mission. This separation is hard, the teacher explained, but is not necessarily wrong. He pointed to so many of Paul’s letters where he sent greetings to and from so many other people in various places (see Romans 16, for example).

It made me think, “Why would we want to do this? Why be a part of a church that has people all over the place?” Because keeping people together is not the goal. The goal is for me personally to know God more, and to make Him known. God wants me to cling to Him more than I cling to others.

“I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt. . . . I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.”  (46:3-4)

Of course, the goal isn’t to separate people. The goal is to share the message of the gospel with as many people as possible. And this cause is worth any amount of personal sacrifice.

We treasure community, and need it. But for this season (be it 2 years, or 4 years, or 10), it will be very different for us. I’ll close with some thoughts that a friend of ours sent us, as they have been through a very similar transition, having been called by God to minister in another area:

“What good is it, for the sake of the gospel, if we actually all did just stay where we were, doing the same thing? God has grown us in our faith (and is continually still growing us). He is going to send us out… sometimes by unlikely means, and He will be with us. Does this mean there is no place for community or that community has no relevance if God is all that we need? May it never be! However, we must hold our community with open hands, willing to let God do with us and them whatever He pleases so that He is glorified.”

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