Addie is my 7-year-old granddaughter.
She was born with an extremely rare syndrome that renders her susceptible to unusual and unpredictable complications. And because she was born also with rheumatoid arthritis, she is in constant pain.
I introduced Addie to Synod 2011 when I was appointed to this position. I now pay tribute to her as I prepare to step down. You see, I was her pastor too when I took this call. And when I told her I was going to leave the church she attended, she drew me a map to help me find my way back.
I had been her pastor all her life. But she has been my pastor too—probably without knowing it.
When I began my service at Ridgewood Christian Reformed Church in Jenison, Mich., in May 1992, I chose as the text for my first sermon Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
When I preached my final sermon at Ridgewood in September 2011, it was on the same text. My wife and I gave every member of the congregation a bookmark with that text printed on it beneath a picture of hands representing us in the hands of God. Addie keeps hers in her Bible.
Recently Addie and her many fans were preparing to walk in an Arthritis Foundation fundraiser. Team Addie needed to design a shirt. Addie and her mom were talking about putting a Bible verse on the front of that shirt. Suddenly Addie said, “I know which one, Mom!” She ran upstairs, grabbed her bookmark out of her Bible and said, “This is what I want my shirt to say.”
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Picture those hands. It’s where we all are.
We are not a large group, we who constitute the Christian Reformed Church in North America. But there is within and among and between and around all the hurt and friction and misunderstanding and brokenness that afflicts all of humanity.
And then look around. What will become of Ukraine, Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali, and Nigeria? What became of Flight 370? What of the millions who wish to be legalized citizens of the U.S. or Canada? When will the shootings stop? What of those whose orientation is being judged? What of those who are convinced the life of this created order is being carelessly shortened—and those who believe it just isn’t so?
Our sheer humanity makes it difficult to believe that, while all of this has been placed in some respect in our hands, we are still in God’s hands. Job was right: “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (12:10).
We have been working as a denomination toward more inclusion. As of the end of the first quarter of 2014, the CRCNA employed 20 percent people of color and 20 percent women in upper leadership positions within the denomination.
We are working toward increasing that percentage across the board. We are not there yet, but we are on the way.
We have also made progress in binational inclusion. The border has sometimes come between us. At times we have misunderstood one another, failed to listen well to each other, been at odds with each other.
This past year a significant report on binationality was adopted by the Board of Trustees. It revealed a conviction that binationality is worth understanding and pursuing, not only for the sake of the two nations involved but as a vital part of our witness to the world that there is a loving God in whose hands the likes of even us can actually become one.
We are affirming the truth Paul spoke on Mars Hill and acknowledging that God can use us and our binationality to encourage others to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).
This past year I was part of a team of five who visited 12 cities in the U.S. and Canada and made 23 presentations to a total of about 1,000 persons from the Reformed Church in America and Christian Reformed Church to talk about our joining together in mission.
It was a privilege I will not forget. The Body of Christ is much bigger than we are.
The CRCNA has added a new word to its vocabulary: experiment. We are truly depending on God to lead, not waiting to see where he goes next. We are people on a journey. These are honest, sincere efforts to present the Good News to the 21st century in terms and ways it can be best understood. And over each and all of them we offer the prayer of Moses: “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17).
We have engaged in significant searches over the past two years. God has led us to a new executive director. In the process, lengthened unexpectedly by a full year, I can see the hand of God unmistakably leading in a host of ways too numerous to mention. While we looked, God led.
A new Canadian ministries director has been appointed by the board, another experience of God’s leading and his provision for the church.
Please receive Steve and Darren as gifts from God. Pray for them, and through them let God lead us all toward greater obedience to him. Know that not only to them, but through them, God says to us: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 40:10).
We inhabit a world that cries out for justice. Justice and the responsibility of stewardship demand that we care for God’s garden and not let arguments about the cause and extent of the damage get in the way of repairing that damage.
We have to remember also that not only suffering Christians in Syria but penniless Palestinians on the West Bank belong to God. So do not only those who came to our countries and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps but those whose parents or maybe even who themselves sneaked across the border during the dark of night and are here illegally.
In a broken world filled with broken people, the initial stance must be a broken heart and not an argument about a broken law. The world and all who live in it are the Lord’s!
Three years ago about this time, I walked into the office and asked myself, “What have I done?” Now I can much more clearly stand amazed and say, “Thank God for what he has done!”
I commend to you and to the loving hands of Almighty God the leaders of the CRCNA. I thank God for the many whose dedication and devotion I have come to know and appreciate. I thank God for the upheaval he has brought to the CRCNA in the past few years—for new leaders and new organization and new plans and new understanding and new interest in prayer.
I thank him for the privilege of not only witnessing it but participating in it. I have come so far in the past three years that it is a little difficult to think about letting things go. But I take comfort in words I read just a few weeks ago from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. He was reflecting on John’s experience on Patmos when the Lord “laid his right hand on” him (Rev. 1:17). Chambers wrote:
When once His touch comes, nothing at all can cast you into fear again. In the midst of all His ascended glory the Lord Jesus comes to speak to an insignificant disciple, and to say ‘Fear not.’ His tenderness is ineffably sweet. Do I know Him like that? . . . I delight to know that there is that in me which must fall prostrate before God when He manifests Himself, and if I am ever to be raised up it must be by the hand of God. God can do nothing for me until I get to the limit of the possible.
So right here, at the limit of the possible, remember that “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
This is an abridged version of Rev. Joel R. Boot’s combination farewell address and state-of-the-church speech to Synod 2014.