Best Letter Ever...
Last week, my oldest daughter Sofia (6) came down the stairs while I was spending some time with the Lord. She squirmed her way into my lap, and we began to talk about the Bible. She shared with me the stories that she had read last night from her Bible, then asked a penetrating question:
“Daddy, are you still a preacher?"
“Yes, sweetheart. Daddy is still a preacher."
“But, you don’t have keys any more to the church?”
The innocence and sincerity of her questions led into a conversation about my call to ministry, my termination from the Richmond Outreach Center, and how we are waiting on the Lord to lead our family to our next church family to invest our lives, and minister to.
Even though she is six years old, Sofia deserved an explanation. For six years, I fed her, clothed her, wiped away her tears, counselled her, taught her the bible, led her to Christ, baptized her...she did not deserve an explanation because she demanded one, she deserved an explanation because I spent time investing in her – because I love her.
The people of the ROC and all those we have spent years ministering to deserve an explanation on what happened at the ROC.
Yet, I am cautious. We live in a suspicious and skeptical culture. In order for us to truly trust somebody, we must be convinced of their integrity, honesty and motives. We read stories of political scandals, of religious leader scandals, of scandals in the school system, of neighbors being arrested from our community – and we scratch our heads in wonder and silently build higher and wider the fence around our hearts, lives, and family. The last person that one will typically trust, is the grinning “slick-haired” salesman that cocks his head back, open his arms wide and says, “Trust me.”
Paul ran into the issue of those who spread mistrust about him and those who misrepresented his ministry. While in the midst of defending his ministry, he paused for a moment and said to the Corinthian church:
2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (HCSB) Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone. 3 It is clear that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God—not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.
Unashamedly, Kristy and I have spent this season in prayer and fasting seeking the Lord’s “next steps” for our family. During this time, I have reached out to godly men I have known, explained to them what happened in Richmond, and asked them to prayerfully consider recommending me to serve to churches searching for a Senior Pastor.
Yet, what Paul said to the church in Corinth is this:
We do not need letters of recommendation from anybody. You are our letter.
Kristy and I have spent seventeen years pouring our lives into others while I served on church staff. Great churches like, Grace Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. Carlisle Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. Bethany Baptist Church in McDonough, GA. First Redeemer Church in Cumming, GA. And seven weeks at the Richmond Outreach Center in Richmond, VA. Also, prior to joining the church staff at Grace Baptist in 1998, we both served, and learned in campus ministries with the Navigators, the BCM and FCA at Austin Peay State University…and I even spent time serving, learning, and giving at a church plant, Two Rivers Church in Powell, OH just three years after I was saved. And of course, the loving church I was saved in, First Baptist Church in Dover TN.
It is the members of these churches whom we ministered to during the years we were there, our extended church family, who are our letters of recommendation. Those who trusted Jesus and were saved. Those we disciple in bible study counseling and prayer. Those we travelled with on over 16 mission trips. Those who surrendered into fulltime ministry and are still serving the Lord to this day. Those who fell in love with Jesus, understood God’s plan for the church, and now as adults with full time jobs and families, invest in some way using their spiritual gifts in ministry to the local church they are involved with. We loved every church the Lord called us to, and remain in a “loving relationship” with many from each church.
These are “the letters” that bring us so much joy. Those who stand for the truth, delight in the Lord, and seek him with all their hearts.
So, yes Sofia, Daddy is still a preacher. I do not have the keys to a building, or a weekly pulpit, but Daddy is seeking to continue to heed the words of Paul as he wrote to Timothy:
1 Timothy 4:12b (HCSB) …you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
A couple of weeks ago, Kristy ran into one of our former students, now in her young adult years, at a local Coffee Shop. With her permission, I am sharing the photo and the caption Katelyn shared on her Facebook page:
How cool is this?!?! Walked into a random coffee shop and saw my old youth pastors wife Kristy Donahue!!!!! So so thankful for this encounter! You and Joe seriously showed me what it was like to be passionate about Jesus from the time I was in 6th grade!!!! I don't even think y'all know the impact y'all have had on me! So so so thankful for yall and for living and loving like Jesus!!!!!! — with Joe Donahue and Kristy Donahue.
Katelyn: Thank you for reminding Kristy and I of what matters most. Keep following Jesus and seeking him with all your heart. Love God, Love people, live like a servant. Stay involved in the lives of others and continue to allow the Lord Jesus to live through you. You have blessed us more than you will ever know.