I’d like to consider myself marginally capable with words, but today they fail me like the Russian winter failed Napoleon. (I’m coming up…short.)
Yesterday was the 20th service anniversary for Joey, my church’s generations pastor and former youth pastor.
This is the guy (Joey, not Napoleon) who caught me after my family’s collapse and became a second father. The guy who drove two hours to watch my black belt test. The guy who taught me how to parallel park. The guy I rode shotgun with, for surreal errands, on 9/11. The guy who brought in our worship band (my favorite ministry) for my going-to-basic-training party. You get the picture.
As was aptly said at his celebration today, he has been there for thousands of young people, now scattered across the world, some now pastors themselves. The fruits of his labor are now in their third, even fourth, generation.
Knowing Joey as I do, I feel oddly hesitant to brag of him.
I could brag about his approachability, his way of listening and setting at ease those he speaks to…but I won’t.
I could brag about his passion for equipping, delegating, and developing those under his charge…but I won’t.
I could brag about his willingness to pick up a rake or shovel alongside any junior-higher he mentors, or dye his beard in loss of a bet to one…but I won’t.
I could brag about the near-unearthly wisdom he purveys to young people navigating the eddies and tangles of growing up…but I won’t.
I could brag about his ability to take what you dislike most about yourself and turn it into an asset and affirmation…but I won’t.
I could brag about the countless family nights he’s sacrificed to spend with a student or friend whose life has been violently upended…but I won’t.
I could brag about the spark you see in his wife and children, showing the life he’s speaking into them…but I won’t.
I could brag about his positive spirit, his cultivated fitness, or his infectious laugh…
…but I won’t.
For if he were all these things, but missed the most important lesson a pastor will ever teach, then he would have fallen short in his job after all.
But I am glad to say that in the matter of passing on this crowning lesson, he has not failed:
…that every good quality we see in him is a dozen times truer, a thousand times truer, a trillion times truer of God.
Soak that in for a moment, friends of Joey (and strangers). Everything you’ve come to admire and respect and aspire to in this man, is true of God in cosmic spades.
For many, a pastor is the introduction and entry point to the character of God. And because of Joey’s upholding of that office, I learned to come to God myself. Not because Joey ever turned me away in a moment of need, but because I came to thirst for the God I was glimpsing in him.
Hebrews 4:16 doesn’t say “So let us keep on coming boldly to your pastor’s office, so that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” It says to come to the throne of grace. Instead of always chasing down my pastor for words of life, I became someone who sought them from God. I don’t like the life I’d be living if I’d grown up under a stern, detached, too-busy pastor. Instead, I am coming to know God as he truly is.
Joey would have me brag of that.
And there’s no higher honor, I submit, that Joey could possibly be paid.