Note: The following was shared at the beginning of Sunday’s message with our Emmanuel Baptist Church Family. You can hear that message by clicking here.)
Less than a handful of times, in the course of your life, God intervenes with events and circumstances that are powerful, providential, and forever altering of the course of your life and the shape of your heart. He uses these events to humble you, to redirect you, to reduce you—that He might transform you and enlarge Himself in your life.
In such events, He calls you to forsake all and follow Him. Whether Abram, Moses, Joshua, Peter, Paul, or you—He brings you to the crisis of belief, trust, abandon, and total surrender. He compels you to trust Him with the unknown, and to fling your life, nearly recklessly into His hands.
Expecting to fall into a vast unknown, you find, not long after the leap, that you fall into His hands, His grace, His providential work that unfolds in ways that are beautiful, intricate, marvelous, intimate, and magnificent. He leads you into storms but then enables you to walk on water. He leads you into fires but then stands with you, unburned. Whether in a pit, a prison, a pasture, or a palace—you find that any where He is, you have all you need in Him.
Five years ago, God led our lives into the cave of cancer. In that dark season, He proved Himself real, gracious, good, and loving. He proved Himself enough! Through twelve long months of tests, treatments, sickness and weakness, God reduced me before His beauty and glory. He broke my will but strengthened my faith. He allowed the fire to purge us but not to punish us. He was good even in cancer.
Six months later, after healing, and when some strength was finally beginning to return, He began to keep me up at night. My appetite left. My sleep was minimal. My spirit was stirring in ways I cannot adequately put words to. At every turn—in song, in service, in scripture, I heard God’s voice say, “You’re assignment is complete here. Follow me!”
“Your home, your friends, your comfort zone, your precious identity wrapped into this wonderful ministry in California—it’s time to graciously and gratefully close this chapter.”
“God—I can’t do that.”
“Yes you can.”
“God—Where are we going?” I begged.
“I’ll tell you later… just leave. Follow me.”
“God—Is this you or is this my own mid-life, post-cancer crisis?”
“It’s Me—let’s go, time is of the essence.”
“God—I’m the wrong guy. Can you call someone else?”
“Yes, I can—but the privilege and opportunity are yours for the moment… so let’s go.”
“God—my family is well established here, I can’t do this to them.”
“I’m already working in their lives—I’ve got that covered. They will be fine… trust me! Let’s go.”
“God—I really can’t afford to do this financially.”
“Really? You think money is an issue for me? I think we’re seeing here that you don’t own your stuff—your stuff owns you. So let’s purge that problem. Let’s leave it all behind and watch me provide. Stop worrying about money.”
“God—I’ve worked for 22 years and I’m in a nice comfort zone, serving you in a fruitful place. Can I just stay?”
“Cary, comfort zones don’t last long. As long as you disobey or resist my call, you know you will never be comfortable again. Follow me… let’s go.”
“God—I need to think about this. Can you give me time?”
“No. Time is in my hands, and the time is now. No more waiting.”
“God—how can I be sure this is your voice I’m hearing?”
“I’ll just keep showing you, over and over, a thousand times, until you can no longer deny, no longer debate, no longer doubt… it’s me. Let’s go… follow me.”
“God—can you please tell me where we are headed?”
“Not yet, just follow. You’ll see soon enough.”
“God—no church is gonna want a pastor that just had cancer.”
“You don’t have cancer any more.”
“God—I can’t pastor. I’m not a lead pastor. My call is to help a pastor.”
“This conversation is going in circles. Are you coming or not? I’m not going to continue this conversation indefinitely!”
“God—where will I live? The market is down. I can’t sell my house.”
“I will build you a house.”
“God—did I just hear you right?”
God—I don’t see how this is going to work out.”
“Do you see me?”
“Then that’s all you really need to see. Now let’s go…”
“God—ok, I need to admit—I’m just scared. I’m a big chicken. My fear is paralyzing.”
“Yes, that’s pretty typical. You’re not the first. Moses, Joshua, David, and host of others precede you. I’m going to tell you what I told them—Be strong and of good courage. I will be with you.”
“God—this could be the biggest mistake and misstep of my whole life.”
“Or it could be the greatest decision you’ve ever made.”
“God—a few godly counselors are telling me NOT to do this.”
“A multitude of godly counselors are telling you TO DO this. More importantly, I’m telling you to do this. You belong to me, not them…”
“God—How do I know this is you?”
“Really? Stop asking that question. You know the answer.”
“God—what if cancer comes back?”
“That’s a real possibility—especially the longer we prolong this conversation.”
“God—can you show me where, when, and how—so then I can have confidence that I’m following a good plan.”
“No—I’m simply showing you myself. You can have confidence in me. I am your shield and exceeding great reward. Follow me. Not my plan.”
“God—I’m so weak and useless right now.”
“Perfect, that’s how I like to work.”
“God—ok, I know what you’ve said. I’ve heard you. I’m fearful, but I will follow—but I’m asking one thing. And please don’t get angry. Can you just show me or tell me one more time? Tomorrow, I’m going to open your Word—show me one more time.”
“Good morning, Cary—this is the last time I’m going to say this. You can follow now or forever regret your fear. Here is my last call— Be of good courage, behave yourself valiantly for your family, your church family, your new church family, and for my cause… stop preventing me—get out of my way and let me do what is good in my sight.
“Good—now hold on, because this is going to scare you to death, feel overwhelming, and at times even depressing—but you’re going to love seeing what I’m about to do!”
From that moment, our lives became a whirlwind of providentially generated momentum—movement and circumstances over which we really had no control.
God does this with all of us. He did it with Abraham.
“Leave home.” “Where.” “I’ll tell you later, just leave.”
“I’m gonna give you a land.” “Where?” “I’ll tell you later, just wander.”
“I’m gonna give you a son.” “How?” “I’ll tell you later, just wait.”
“Sacrifice your son to me.” “Why?” “I’ll tell you later, just obey.”
Within days, God revealed His path was leading to Connecticut, to a hopeful but discouraged group of wonderful Christians—whom we now consider to be family and friends. You had been faithful through many hardships. You had prayed diligently for God to work in your church. You had labored and invested your hearts and lives into the hope of the gospel in New England.
Beyond being faithful through every diverse kind of hardship—you were only too willing to receive a weak pastor, a fearful family, and welcome us with loving, gracious warmth and faith. Turns out, you actually wanted a pastor recovering from cancer. Who knew!? You accepted my weakness.
And so, three years ago today, I began tripping and fumbling my way through the senior pastorate. I began mumbling and stuttering and stammering my way through Bible messages. You heard beyond a struggling preacher, and somehow responded to God’s TRUTHFUL Word. You forgave a thousand oversights and mistakes—chalking it all up to “he’s new, and he’s never been to New England before, he’ll learn…” You laughed with me, and at me—which knit us more quickly.
You prepared a parsonage. You prayed. You paved the way heroically! You welcomed us with cake and cards. You learned to clap in church. You helped us with flooded basements and snakes. You showed up on sick days with chicken soup. Before winter, you blessed us with salt, shovels, scarves, scrapers—and a gentle, subtle smirk— “here, you’re going to need these…”
You introduced us to Dunkin’ hazelnut coffee. You called or emailed or texted at just the right time—to encourage, pray, or just say hi. You loved us, without requiring us to earn or deserve your love. You accepted an approach to ministry that was foreign to you, yet biblical… and in fact, even joyful and dare I say, “fun!”
And in a short time, in spite of me and us—we began to see God work. He began to show us anew, the power of the gospel of grace. He began to reveal to us a harvest that we knew not of. He began to move in us and around us. He shaped us all to His plan—and we all became pliable in His hands.
We preached Jesus, pulled down wallpaper, and pulled up carpet. We served coffee and sang at the top of our lungs. We grew and gave and glorified Jesus. We praised and prayed and painted. And God blew us away. By the dozens, new hearts came to Jesus. New faces ventured into our midst. New lives were added to our family. Baptisms and more baptisms. Worship, fellowship, the Word—we grew, we celebrated, we rejoiced in little steps forward.
New staff members—joyful, faith filled, wonderful servants and friends answered the call to come to CT to join us in the work. God assembled a wonderful team in our ministry, and has been laying a strong foundation for years to come.
He did more miracles in our midst than we have time to recall in this moment—the most significant being the souls that He has saved by His grace. He stopped church decline and birthed a church revitalization—a replanting beyond what any of us anticipated. He softened hearts in a part of the nation where we are told hearts are not soft. He sparked a revival in a pagan culture where it isn’t supposed to happen. He knit our hearts to Himself and to one another.
To many of you hearing these words, He came into your life as Savior and friend! You have been made a new creature. You have been grafted into our church family—a part of this thriving, healthy, local church body. You are our answer to prayer. We loved you before we knew you. We love you now. We rejoice in what, together, God will use us to do in the days and years ahead.
To God be the glory. To God we give thanks! To you we give credit and thanks—to you the family of Emmanuel Baptist Church! Thank you for trusting God with us. Thank you for accepting our family, sharing our vision, following God with us in faith, and lifting up Jesus with courage and compassion.
Restoration is a beautiful work when it’s authored by the hands of Jesus. He is the hero of this story. I’m just the weak pastor and we are just the weak people who get to journey along in the strong hands of a GREAT and GRACIOUS SAVIOUR! This is not my story. It’s a Jesus and us story!
What God has done in our lives and in our midst is MARVELOUS! We celebrate His grace. We praise His power. We worship His beauty. We marvel at His amazing love. We enjoy knowing Him, knowing each other, and helping others know Him!
I echo the words of David:
2 Samuel 7:18, 20-22 “18 …Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? …“20 And what can David say more unto thee? for thou, Lord GOD, knowest thy servant. 21 For thy word’s sake, and according to thine own heart, hast thou done all these great things, to make thy servant know them. 22 Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”
I believe, with all my heart, that we have only begun. God’s restoring or replanting work at Emmanuel is a beautiful unfolding story of grace and truth. The gospel has brought new life, health, and hope. Our goal was not only to survive—but to thrive. Our prayer is that Emmanuel will be a joyful, healthy, loving, Biblical church—a place where people can come to know God’s Word, fellowship with His people, and find encouragement in His grace and strength. As we lift up Jesus and magnify Him, He will continue to do the work.
Over three years, the journey has had many discouraging moments. There have been uncertain times, seasons of weakness, moments of hardship. But through them, God has been trustworthy. Through them, you have been faithful and encouraging. We have taken this journey together—following God and watching Him work. We are utterly dependent upon Him, but we are in good hands!
He is God. He is good. He is gracious. And His grace is sufficient for the challenges of today and tomorrow!
“God—THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU—A MILLION TIMES!”
“EBC family—Ditto! Thank you, thank you, thank you. We love you and love seeing God work in your lives!”
We believe the best is yet to come!
Psalms 118:23 “23 This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”
(End Note: The section about Abraham is a rough quote source I cannot recall.)