Of course, the origins of Friday the 13th truly are menacing. It was on this date back in 1307 AD that, without warning, King Philip IV of France, fearing their power and wealth, had over 600 Knights Templars arrested and imprisoned. Over the days and weeks to come, in addition to having their property confiscated, most were tortured, and many even beheaded. Little wonder this day in so infamous.
For me, however, I will now always remember Friday the 13th for another reason. As many of you who read my blog regularly will know, for the past 19 years, I have been privileged to serve as the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Lenoir City, Tennessee. This past Sunday, however, after 41 years in the ministry, I retired from the Pastorate.
I had been preparing for this step for quite some time because I have felt led to transition from a preaching and pastoral ministry to a writing ministry. I already have several books in the works; and in the coming weeks and months, I will be saying more about each of these. (One can expect to see other changes on my website as well.) In the meantime, however, my wife and I are taking a few days off to rest and recuperate before plunging wholeheartedly into the next chapter of our lives together.
All of this brings me to my point… I have been asked many times this week how I am enjoying retirement. In each case, my response has been that I do not know yet, because I seemed to have been in my office at the church more since I retired than I had been before. You see, I literally spent Monday through Friday packing up and cleaning out my office. That involved packing hundreds of boxes, as well as moving them to storage.
My wife and I finished this wearisome process very late Thursday night. Having been taught by our parents always to leave something better than you found it, we spent Friday morning cleaning and putting the office back in order as best we could. I am sure the church will do a much better job than we did, as they prepare it for their next Pastor; but we at least wanted to make an effort.
After we finished this process, I then spent around two hours just walking the church facilities. I roamed through the Family Life Center, where we worshipped when I first came. (We once lovingly referred to it as the “Sanctinasium” or the “Gymnatorium”!) From there, I meandered through the Student Worship Area and the KidStuf Theatre, as well as the hallways of the Christian Academy and the Fellowship Hall and Kitchen. All of these were we had constructed together.
My path then took me all throughout the Worship Center which we constructed for God’s glory in 2007. The Choir Suite, Baptistery, Sound and Tech Booths, Green Room, Guest Reception Area... All these places and many more had and will continue to have very special memories for me as long as I live. But none of them were as special as the Pulpit itself. As I stood in this spot for some time reflecting on the hundreds of hours I had spent there, many a memory came to my mind. Needless, to say, I shed quite a few tears.
More to the point, the Lord and I talked there. I prayed that I had been faithful to do what I had been called there to do. Like each of the 24 pastors who preceded me in the 125 year history of this great church, I was here for a season. And like each of them, I had a job to do. Each in turn faithfully did their job in their time. I pray that I devotedly did mine as well; and also that all who one day come behind me will find me to have been faithful in my time.
From the Pulpit, I made my way back to my office and took one last look around.
This was, of course, the only place I had spent more time than I did in the pulpit. Here, I had pretty much the same thoughts; and prayed pretty much the same prayer. Finally, I took the inevitable last step. I removed my Church keys from my key ring and surrendered them to the Church’s Office Manager. At that point, all I could do was make my way out to the parking lot and drive away from 19 years of my life. As I did, like so many times before, I took one last glance in my rear view mirror at the Church’s facilities.
This was a particularly poignant moment for me because very few things are as symbolic and as powerful as surrendering one’s keys! With keys comes a certain amount of perceived authority, security, and trust. But whenever one surrenders his or her keys, in so many respects, he or she gives these things up. He or she is now without rather than within. He or she is now at the mercy of others to come or to go. In short, he or she is now no longer in control. Needless to say, letting go of my keys was a very powerful moment.
But I am okay with that. Because it was never really my office, my pulpit, or my facility anyway. These things are now what they always were and what they always will be: the property of Almighty God! I was simply a steward of them for a short period of time. Accordingly, I pray I will one day be found faithful by their Rightful Owner even more than by those who follow after me.
Oh, and by the way, what applies to Pastors and Church facilities also applies to lay people and to every other place, possession, and/or opportunity in this world. We will all one day turn in our keys! Just like me, you too will one day come to the end of life and have to give up control. After this, as the New Testament Book of Hebrews (chapter 9, verse 27) affirms, all that remains is the judgement of God.
Given this, I urge you to join with me in trying to make the most of your God-given opportunities as you seek to carry out your God-given responsibilities, and thereby fulfill your God-given calling. For me, for the past 19 years, that calling has been to be the Pastor of a wonderful Church family. Prior to that, for 22 years, it was to serve other, similar Church families in much the same capacity.
Hereafter, that calling will hopefully involve serving this same God by developing and employing my skills as a writer. As I undertake this new venture, as I turn the page and begin this brand new chapter, I appreciate your prayers. In exchange, I will pray for each of you and your respective ministry endeavors as well. May the God Who gifted us and then called us to honor Him with those gifts be glorified in our respective service!
FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH: According to one article, this date “pops up just frequently enough to be a pop culture phenomenon, but not so often that its weirdness wears off thanks to over-familiarity. When this date shows up on the calendar, we notice. Even if you don't consider yourself to be an overly superstitious person, you still likely feel the effects of Friday the 13th — reports show that almost 21 million people admit to feeling at least mild anxiety during this unlucky holiday.”
SEE ALSO: https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/weekday-friday-13;
AS WELL AS: https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/friday-the-13th; and
SCRIPTURE SOURCE: https://biblehub.com/hebrews/9-27.htm.