Monday, April 22, 2013

Stepping Down and Moving On in Faith

Nearly every Sunday for the past four and a half years, we’d wake the kids up early, throw breakfast down their throats, and wrestle them in their clothes that we (my wife) set out the night before. It was an art form really. A streamlined chaos. And nearly every Sunday for the past four and a half years we would make the drive 45 minutes into the city. The landscape changed as we travelled, from crops and cattle and horses, to car dealerships and industrial buildings and upscale coffee shops. And nearly every Sunday for the past four and a half years we would begin our trek to church with a prayer. For our travel, for the worship service, for the leaders and teachers. And nearly every Sunday for the past four and a half years we would pray that God would help our unbelief, that he would increase our faith, that he would cause us to greatly depend on him and to trust in him continually.

God has been good to me and my family. He has kept us safe in our travels to and from church. He has blessed our church’s worship and teaching. And he has increased our faith. And God continues to answer prayer as he had revealed to us in increasing measure that the time was coming to step down from serving at Wornall Road Baptist Church. And, in his timing, God has closed that chapter in our lives. Yesterday was my last Sunday serving as Worship Pastor for Wornall Road Baptist Church.

The decision was hard and easy at the same time. It was hard for two reasons. The first was regarding discernment, battling a deceitful heart ever looking to increase my pride, my status, my glory, and praying that decisions would be made from faith and not from vanity. God, in his mercy and grace, provided a dear friend who helped me clarify these things which gave me a greater boldness to act in faith.

The second reason why the decision was hard was simply because of the love we have for the people at Wornall Road Baptist Church. There are real and genuine friendships founded in the blood of Christ. To leave, to not regularly be in a week-in week-out relationship with these friends, would be hard. But despite the pain, because these relationships are founded in the blood of Christ, we know that they cannot be sundered. Different and changed a bit on this temporal plain, yes, but not separated, not destroyed. We knew that to stay, to disobey, for the sake of friendships would only result in disaster. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To be obedient and follow God in faith, and to still retain these amazing friendships, is a grace beyond measure to us!

I tasted that pain yesterday. I felt it in my heart and soul. If it’s true that the eyes are the windows to the soul then I saw some sad souls. My heart beats, even now, a blue rhythm for them. Yesterday evening God allowed us to spend time with our Gospel Community Group, our church’s version of small groups, and the pain was felt deepest here. But the pain is a good pain because it is evidence of deep roots. They prayed for us and God continued to humble me with their words of encouragement. It was the most fitting ending to a day of goodbyes. (Praise God that they are only temporary goodbyes!)

Below is an edited letter that I sent to the elders that I pray gives a little insight into some of the factors at play when I decided to step down.

My Dear Brothers,

It is a comfort knowing that Christ is Lord over all and that God's sovereign hand touches everything. When I came to Wornall in the fall of 2008 it was in response to a help wanted ad I found on Midwestern's site about 6 pages in. The ad said help was needed with music ministry until about the summer of 2009. 

When I walked in to meet with John Mark and Kumar I saw the architecture and almost immediately assumed I wouldn't fit. Obviously I was dead wrong. Nearly the moment John Mark, Kumar, and I began to talk I was almost taken aback at how easy and right it felt. We clicked instantly. After I was on board for a while we joined up with Ryan and April's pre-Gospel Community, Gospel Community Group. I don't think I've expressed the deep gratitude for the love and the healing that God granted to us through the group through Ryan and April and Brian and Sarah and everyone else. That more than anything else, the almost immediate closeness and genuine feel of Christian brotherhood, was an indication to us that God had planned this for our good and his glory.

And then, only a handful of months after we arrived, we miscarried our twins. Again, God used Wornall to pour out love and grace on us. The following year is difficult to express how hard things were and at the same time how blessed we were. Arwen was born. We knew of her disability before she was born and it was the love outpoured and a heaping healthy dose of the truth of God's sovereignty preached from the pulpit at Wornall that sustained us in faith. Literally.

And so we grew, or rather God grew us, and God grew me in and with the congregation and under John Mark, in numerous ways, spirituality, theologically, musically, and an ever deepening love and knowledge of the gospel. And then to be a part of a team of leaders who are passionate for the gospel and a love for the church has only increased that growth in an exponential way. My love for you and for the church is deep, and in a real way eternal, for love in and through Christ is never transitory.

And so brothers, it pierces my heart—in a good way, a holy pain—when I say that my time at Wornall Road Baptist Church has come to an end. Over the last 6 months or so, I believe God has been preparing me for this. Many factors are at play, and I praise God with the greatest rejoicing that none of these factors involve sin or scandal. Many small things make the whole, and for me and my family, these things include; the time I’m able/unable to commit, the distance we travel, the increased care for my children, a real and weighty sense of a need to examine my calling in the ministry and what that looks like. There are other small reasons of the same sort, but these are in the main. And because of these things, not only do I think God is leading me to this decision for the good of myself and my family, but also for the good of Wornall Road.

This does not mean, whatsoever, that we desire to end any relationship! We love all of you and want to remain in a deep, loving, albeit now different, Christian friendships. We still want to do dinners! We still want to have our kids play together whenever possible. We will still be praying and rooting for Wornall Road.

As we make this transition we are stepping out in faith. I have no real foresight as to what lies ahead. What church we’ll go to, what ministry I’ll be involved in, etc. So I ask for your prayers in that.

I love you guys, I have been honored and privileged and count it among the highest blessings that God has allowed me to serve at Wornall Road and alongside all of you. May God richly bless His people at Wornall Road.

Through Christ, with the deepest love and affection,
Your brother,

Rich Tuttle

We got home late last night and put the anxious dog outside and the kids to bed. The house was quiet and the feeling of my soul is hard to describe. It felt like it had been just washed with a spring rain. That after-rain smell. That’s the feeling. A type of mournful rejoicing. I’m still a bit hung-over with it today. I went out to get the dog in the cool night, which afforded me the opportunity to look at the bright stars shining through the flimsy clouds and to take a breath and recall the day and the past four and a half years. God is good.

Me and John Mark (My pastor, my brother, my friend)

Me and Ernesto (My right-hand man! I've never seen a more gifted and humble musician)

The last rehearsal. Sad and sweet.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Jesus Wept (Because He's Not a Pragmatist)

Take a gander through John 11.

Why did Jesus weep? Not cry. Not sniffle. Weep. Hopefully, the question seems odd. His friend died, why wouldn’t he weep, right? But then again, Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus up from the dead. So we ponder, if Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus, why did he weep?

This was the question proposed in the sermon this past Sunday, a worthy and accurate account of why Jesus wept. I will link to it when the audio is up. But as this question was posed my mind was wandering. There are many possible answers as to why he wept, but I think an important reason is that Jesus wept because he’s not a pragmatist.

A pragmatist looks at this situation and believes there is nothing to weep over. A pragmatist believes the ends justify the means and so Christ’s weeping before raising Lazarus doesn’t compute. At first glance it doesn’t appear that we view this through pragmatic lenses, but that is because we’re not dealing with a moral issue. It’s easy to spot and criticize pragmatism when evil is used as a path to do good. It’s harder to see it when we’re dealing with the practicality and usefulness of things.

A pragmatist looks at Jesus weeping and sees it as unnecessary. There is no reason why he should be weeping since the very cause of his weeping will be made right by himself in only a few moments. But Jesus, fully knowing that Lazarus will soon rise, still weeps.

The pragmatist simply is unable to come to terms with the fact that Jesus wept simply because he was sad. Twice Jesus was “deeply moved” says John. Jesus doesn’t put the cart before the horse. A man, his friend whom he loved, has died. Lazarus’ sisters, even in their belief in Jesus, are grieving and Jesus resonates with their grief. Something unnatural to the created order has taken place. Death. It’s wrong. And Jesus appropriately responds. Death is heavy, weighty, worth lingering over, even with the knowledge that it will one day be reversed. Jesus lingers over this. Takes the time to weep. The pragmatist is astonished at this. Why waste tears and sobs? Why not snap your fingers and get it over with?

If a pragmatist watching from the sidelines were to ask Jesus about it afterwards, here’s how I think it would’ve gone down:

Pragmatist: If you could raise him from the dead, why did you weep?
Jesus: Because he died and he was my friend and I love him and his sisters.
Pragmatist: No doubt you loved him, but why cry when you knew he’d come alive again?
Jesus: Because he died.
Pragmatist: Of course, but you knew he’d live again.
Jesus: And so will you.
Pragmatist: Sure, sure. Resurrection at the Last Day and stuff. But you knew beforehand that you would raise him from the dead. Your disciples told me that the very reason you came was to “go to awaken him”. You had this planned from before you came. You knew he died when you were far off, and the reason you came was to awaken him. But you still shed tears? Why?
Jesus: Because he died and he was my friend and I love him and his sisters.

If the pragmatist didn’t keep pestering, I’m sure he would’ve thrown up his hands in frustration and walked away.

There is no room for pragmatism in the slightest. Pragmatism demands an answer here that cannot be given because it will always be the wrong answer. Jesus wept because his friend died. Because he saw how much it grieved the sisters. Because death is wrong and weeping in the face of death is right and appropriate. Instead of snapping his fingers and getting the job done Jesus took the time to weep.

Why is it important for us to realize that Jesus’ weeping was a result of him not being a pragmatist? It’s important because there’s a heck-of-a-lot of pragmatists who follow Jesus and for some reason it seems most of them find their way into the ministry. It’s good to notice this because it forces us to realize that pragmatism is antithetic to the way Jesus operated. It’s good for us to see that pragmatism fails even when it’s disconnected from moral issues. A pragmatist sees Jesus’ weeping as unnecessary.

Ministers and pastors and church planters and leadership coaches and whoever else with their fingers in the pie ought to cling to this. Jesus doesn’t operate from a strategic pragmatic position. You’re not going to find a formulaic system you can pull from Scripture to discover the “Jesus Method” and if you do it’s because you’ve already spilled your pragmatic Kool-Aid all over the text. The only way to emulate Jesus is to suffer and die. Deny yourself and take up your cross and all that. That’s the proven track record and, surprise, it’s not pragmatic in the least.

This all sounds good. Pragmatism, boo! Take up your cross, yay! That is, until we get to the church budget, right? It tends to throw a monkey wrench into our leadership goals and ‘vision casting’, doesn’t it? Hopefully it causes us to look at things like grace a bit longer. How many scandals would strike the church if we took grace as seriously as Christ did, and not limit grace to only those who qualify for it under our pragmatic goals? We show love to victims of crime. Do we show love to criminals? Do we love people or do we love a demographic? I could go on. The implications of Jesus weeping are huge.