Monday, October 17, 2016

Standing Watch

I learned something during the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Being the pastor of a church with many military members has taught me numerous great lessons, but OIF challenged me — along with our whole church — in some unique ways. It’s one thing to help support the family of a military member on deployment. It’s entirely different when you are helping Stand Watch over them when they send their loved ones off to combat.

OIF meant that many of the people in normally “non-deployable” jobs were being sent off to war. For Stone Ridge Church, it meant that we had over 20 families to serve as their spouse/parent was sent away into dangerous territory. For Cathy and me, we discovered that we were suddenly leading a small group of wives whose husbands were gone for an indefinite time. We prayed for them, made ourselves available to them and encouraged them as they went about their lives with as much normalcy as possible. Their job was to keep things going here, without disrupting the focus of their service member there. Everyone knew that combat was hard and extremely dangerous; we wouldn’t make it more so by communicating some of the nagging problems of life with those who were away fighting for us all.

I write this today because I gained a perspective during OIF about a unique part of my role as a pastor. Those who follow Jesus are frequently called his bride. One of the most apt descriptions of our relationship with the Savior is found in the holy, intimate, fully-commited bonds of matrimony. While I am individually a part of Christ’s bride, my pastoral job is largely to Stand Watch over the beloved of Jesus.

During OIF, I interacted with the brides of others. I gained great respect as I watched them carry their increased responsibility with dignity and courage. I heard their hearts as they longed for the safe return of their husbands. I took seriously their requests that I not throw them into a panic with an unannounced visit to their homes. I had been put on their call lists; my presence without prior notice would send off alarm bells that something terrible had happened.

My recent prayers have frequently turned to the impending end of my assignment (from God) to Stand Watch over the part of Jesus’ bride called Stone Ridge Church. I am in awe that God would have selected me for such a responsibility. I want to finish it well…and I want to turn it over to a successor who gets it. The honor of caring for the bride of Christ is far overshadowed by the gravity of the task. Unlike the spouse whose loved one goes off to war, Jesus is a very present Husband. He promised that he would be with us. Still, he chose that some would carry the load of Standing Watch.

This coming weekend at Stone Ridge Church is very critical. The church family will consider Tom Burks as he communicates God’s Word to us. Tom is the unanimous recommendation of our Stone Ridge elders as my successor. Please pray for him. It’s a serious responsibility we are all contemplating. For the church, it’s the responsibility of prayerfully seeking God as we voice our individual opinions on this decision. For Tom, it’s the riveting task of  whether or not Jesus is calling him to Stand Watch at Stone Ridge.