NOT HOME YET…
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:2-3
In the next 48 hours, I will pull a U-haul trailer four and a half hours south to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to begin a new ministry role as Pastor of Hardy Street Baptist Church.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have hugged precious friends and cried and reminisced and laughed together…and invariably, someone will say, “I know you’re excited to be going home!”. You see, Hattiesburg is my home town. Actually, it is “our” home town as Stephanie grew up in the neighboring city of Petal. I spent the first 23 years of my life there. It’s where I grew up. But I’ve been thinking… Is Hattiesburg home?
Our firstborn child, Hannah, was born in New Orleans twenty years ago. We brought her home to a tiny apartment on the campus of the Baptist Seminary there. We had little money, but oh, were we in love and did we have fun! Haley, our middle daughter, was also born there in the Crescent City. We fell in love with the food, the music, the architecture & the culture of that city… And we developed deep and lasting friendships with others in ministry - people that we still know and love today… So, Is New Orleans home?
Next, we lived in Savannah, Tennessee… We bought our first house there! We loved that house! Looking back, it wasn’t that big or that fancy, and we painted the interior a hideous color...but it was OURS! Haley took her first steps down the hallway of that house. The girls had their first swingset in the backyard of that house…and their first dog. We loved our neighbors and our church family and our ministry! We enjoyed bar-b-q fundraisers, youth retreats, Friday night lights and the very best of small town living! Pickwick Lake, the Tennessee River, and Shiloh Battlefield provided great interests to share with our friends and family who visited. So, could I say that Savannah, Tennessee is home?
Several years ago, we moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to plant a church…This is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the country! God moved us way outside of our comfort zone and far from anything familiar. Yet it was there, in the early days of a growing flock, that we experienced the purest sense of community that we have ever known. Our little faith family ate together and prayed together and supported one another. It was there that our daughter, Haley came to faith in Jesus Christ and I baptized her in Lake CDA! And it was there that Heidi, our youngest was born. The mountains, the snow, the vivid colors of the Fall (not to mention the bears, the moose, the eagles and the elk) made this a picturesque setting for our family to settle into, and we LOVED IT! So, is Idaho home?
We moved to Olive Branch, Mississippi eight years ago…and quickly felt a sense of “home”. Back in the land of sweet tea and fried catfish and SEC football, we were surrounded by an atmosphere of familiarity. But more than all this, God forged our hearts with some amazing people. God placed families in our lives that we were able to minister to and love. We walked through dark valleys with families who experienced suffering and loss…and their families became our family.
We experienced the grace of God in fresh ways here in Olive Branch as He brought us to Longview Heights Baptist Church. We learned so much here about missions and ministry, about shepherding and serving. We experienced the love and leadership of a pastor who prays for his people and a staff that loves each other deeply. We watched our girls shine in choirs and bands and classes and clubs… So, surely Olive Branch is home, right?
Well, the dictionary definition of “home” describes it as the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
What we have learned over the course of our married life is this - houses get bought and sold; a home stays with you always… Family and friends make home, home! Yet more than this, God has placed a deep yearning in our hearts for a place called HOME! A place of permanence and a place of security... a place to belong! And one day we will arrive there! And there, we will experience no sadness, no sickness, no goodbyes, no disease or death! We will be reunited with those who have gone on before us!
As we move to Hattiesburg, I am SO EXCITED about the ministry opportunities ahead. Hardy Street is an incredible church with unlimited potential and incredible people! I am excited about reconnecting with people and places that we know and love so well! My mom lives there, my brother and his family live there…Scores of childhood friends live in the Hub City and we hope to rekindle relationships and develop new deep, lasting friendships! We are also praying for many people to come to faith in Jesus through our efforts!
All of these places have held a special place in our hearts and lives, and as we connect with family & friends, we have had this great sense of home! But this sense is only a shadow of something deeper and more significant to come! So what should I call home? I think it’s safe to say, that even in Hattiesburg… We are not home yet!
A thousand years from now, we will be home and we will celebrate the sufficiency of the One who put the desire for “home” in our hearts to begin with! Today, when your head is turned by something this world has to offer or when seeds of discontent try to take root in your heart or when you are discouraged thinking that all you have done for Jesus is in vain, remember: you’re not home yet!
Christ-follower, husband, dad, friend & the Senior Pastor of Hardy Street Baptist Church.