First, let me say I'm about to use death references to explain so much. But I don't think its by mistake. And I don't think its stupid or abnormal. And Lord knows I don't mean to offend or make light of a serious situation. Shane Duffy told us we may go through the 5 stages of grieving on Sunday as he had, and my respect for him is out of this world. If he hadn't said that, I may be thinking I was wrong or crazy for feeling the way I do, but now I see its just normal when you have the amount of connection, love, respect, and life change as a result of an individual.
Originally I intended to name this post 'Perry is dead to me' in the spirit of Perry's gift of drawing the attention of those who would otherwise not have looked and doing things in unconventional but highly effective ways. He was the master of drawing people in - and all for the sake of the gospel! The truth in the proposed title was in the way I feel right now. NO PERRY IS NOT DEAD TO ME .....BUT....... if feels as if a close friend or mentor has died. You see when I think about Perry's leave, it seems like a bad dream or nightmare I'm not going to wake up from. Maybe you can relate. The best way to describe the feeling is a lot like we feel when someone dies. I am truly sad. Its a sadness marked by a gratefulness of 13 years of my life marked by Perry's influence. My sadness pales in comparison to what Perry and his family are feeling, so I don't wallow in self-pity too long! After all, I am sad BUT I am encouraged!
The oxymoron of being sad and encouraged can be perplexing, but only apart from Christ. When you are in him, its expected! God's word says he grants us a peace that transcends understanding (Phil 4:7). Exactly. Although I'm sad, I have a peace about everything. Experiencing polar opposite feelings while concretely perceiving the positive one and only being aware of the negative one was familiar to the Apostle Paul in the bible as well. He wrote,
"We are pressed on every side by troubles BUT we are not crushed. We are perplexed BUT not driven to despair. We are hunted down BUT never abandoned. We get knocked down BUT we are not destroyed. . . All of this is for your benefit. And as God's grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory" (2 Corinthians 4:8-10,15).
Again in Philippians 4:12-13 he writes,
"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
Paul could teach us a thing or two about oxymoron's and how they are THE way of life of a Christian. Despite the world crashing down, bad news, sad news, or uncertain futures, we have peace and contentment. We can trust in the heart of God while he works his hand. We can trust in his character. He is all knowing, therefore, if we don't trust him to take care of this situation we are denying his omniscience! If we don't trust his power to work in Perry and our church, we are denying his omnipotence! Today we may be feeling pressed, but we aren't crushed. We may be feeling confused but we are not hopeless. We may be the object of ridicule but we have God with us. We may have a bump in the road, but we are still standing strong. Paul reminds us that all this happening is for our BENEFIT! We serve a God who takes confusion, burdens, bumps, and bruises and uses them for our BENEFIT! Through this all God's grace will reach MORE, people will praise Him, and he will be glorified BECAUSE of this hard time! I've never met the Apostle Paul (duh), but from his words I feel like I know him. After all, he wrote over half of the new testament and from that we get an enormous glimpse into his life and heart.
I have never met Perry in person but since first hearing him in college in 2003 I grew to know him: his heart (for the lost and for the gospel!), his likes (Fogo de Chao, Bruster's birthday cake ice cream, Clemson, fast cars, coffee), his family (Charisse and Lacretia - "yes she is white," his parents who both have passed away - his dad more recently and his mom from cancer when he was 12), his dislikes (cats, fruit on his dessert, cats, cats), his build (over 300 lbs in the 8th grade to 6'5" and healthy/slim now), his personality (FUNNY, FRANK, and FUN), the fact that he ran two marathons in one day (his first and his last), the sins he has overcome (pornography for example), the struggles he faced and faces (anxiety, depression, road rage), and MUCH more. As Christians we can relate to not meeting someone physically but being deeply influenced by their words and connected to their heart.
Now that he is no longer the senior pastor at Newspring church and thus my pastor, I am grieving. I think about 13 years of messages, podcasts, quotes, books, devotions, blog posts, social media posts and the like that have been the guiding force for my own life and story. I think about how he made me laugh every single Sunday he preached while also challenging me and teaching me. He drilled into us at Newspring a common language and culture that was all based on the bible: "You cant do life alone," "Saved people serve people," "Its ok to not be okay but not okay to stay that way," "You cant outgive God," "Found people find people," "Growing people change," taking our "next step" to walk closer with Jesus, and so on. As Perry taught us, when we are speaking the same gospel-based language as a church, we will be unstoppable. Perry preached the gospel at its finest. It was truly the "good news" as it is referred to in scripture. He made the good news sound truly good. He made bad news sound like an opportunity to trust God and see him work. And the way he delivered it all had my attention 100% from the very beginning. The news he delivered changed my life.
It was Perry's words, "The desire to be comfortable ruins us," that changed the trajectory of my life forever. Those words have been the guiding force of my life for a decade! They are etched into by heart, they are whispered to me when my faith falters, they give me courage when I need it most.
Those words called me out of an awful relationship in college and encouraged me to trust God that he had better for me. A year of singleness and trusting God later, I started dating my spouse.
Those words encouraged me to start trusting God with my money and tithing at church. Perry taught me we don't wait for a feeling in our heart to obey, we obey and then Jesus changes our heart. A few weeks after beginning to tithe, I received a bonus and a few months later a new job.
Those words led me to serve in the church although I was scared out of my mind. Since that time 3 years ago, I've been apart of the care team ministry at church from which I have grown exponentially and first hand experienced all the life change that has come from God's work through Perry!
Those words inspired me to small groups- there is nothing comfortable about having a bunch of strangers whom you may have nothing in common with (except Jesus!) come to your house! Having true biblical community for the first time in my life brought about change, growth, and belonging that I could not have found otherwise or created on my own.
Now, those words challenge me to trust God's plan during this uncomfortable time for our church.
We all want to stay in our comfort zones but that isn't where we grow deeper and closer to God - Perry's challenge to get uncomfortable and trust God changed everything for me. He helped me realize fear is the opposite of faith and trusting God was putting all my eggs in His basket without a safety net to fall back on. It meant trusting in Gods promises. Walking in faith took on meaning and understanding in my life because of Perry; otherwise, the desire to be comfortable may have ruined me. Perry always did a phenomenal job of getting people to trust in God's promises all the while sharing his own doubts, shortcomings, and struggles. We could relate.
Not to beat the death thing to death but even thinking about his departure I'm brought to the words of the apostle Paul as he neared his death,
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." 2 Timothy 4:6-8.
I am so thankful for Perry's sacrifices, dedication, leadership, and commitment to Newspring church and its mission over the last 16 years - he has been fighting the good fight and keeping the faith. I find it hard to fathom the amount of pressure he was under 24/7.Even as he faced an INTENSE amount of undeserved scrutiny, bad press, and scorn during that time, he was always faithful to his calling to reach the lost and teach them how to follow Jesus step by step. He preached the gospel more clearly and effectively than anyone I've listened to in my life. He was transparent and humble, as a good leader should be. He welcomed all races, cultures, classes, sexual preferences, and people to our church to hear the gospel while teaching it was okay to not be okay but NOT ok to stay that way. He taught us that Jesus was the answer - religious laws and rules would never change someone's heart and thus behavior; but Jesus had that power! I could talk for days about all he taught me.
Although I think of that common verse Paul wrote about finishing the race and keeping the faith and although people often use it at funerals, Perry is alive. He has a fight ahead of him to get better but also a race to finish. He has himself and a family and marriage to take care of. In fact, his ministry very well may just be getting started. I believe the best is yet to come in his life as well. If he just listens to his own preaching, his own words, he will get through this and come out stronger. Maybe he was preaching to all us broken people and encouraging us all these years because God knew he would need to preach that same message back to himself one day.
I know Perry would want us to continue to build the church remembering it is the bride of Christ and hope of the world. Perry would say, "if it ain't good God ain't done." He would remind us "the best is yet to come." He would pound into us that God redeems every broken story and uses it for our good IF we submit to Him.
I walked away from church Sunday incredibly sad but incredibly encouraged. Half of that is due to Perry's insistence over the past 13 years that bad circumstances are the prerequisite for God's intervention. As Shane Duffey and Brad Cooper reminded us on Sunday, God is not surprised by this. This is part of Perry's story and Newspring Church's story. From yesterday alone, I know in the service I served in, five people were saved. We serve a God that takes bad and turns it to good!!! How awesome is that!
Perry thank you for changing my life and encouraging me in my walk with Christ for the last 13 years. Thank you for being obedient all these years to God and your calling. Thank you for not letting your critics stop you from your mission. Thank you for never attempting to have us believe you were perfect and our savior. From the beginning you always made it known that Jesus was our savior and you were just an instrument. I've talked to 13 year olds who confessed porn addiction, sex workers who turned their life over to Jesus, broken people who didn't have a hope in this world, angry people who held onto unforgiveness for decades, sad people who felt a friends suicide was their fault, divided people who didn't believe their marriage could be restored, addicted people who found purpose in Jesus...all because of your obedience to "do what you could do if nothing was stopping you." Because you were faithful to Gods call on your life, thousands have stepped over from death to life, not to mention the thousands who already knew Jesus but whose walk with him grew stronger and deeper - like me.
For the first time ever I understand what the common saying " I wouldn't be where I am today if not for you" means, REALLY. No I mean LITERALLY. And heck its about someone I have never even met physically! I don't mean the phrase in the context of assigning to people who have made a difference in our lives but I mean the kind of person where if you took them out of your life, you truly, seriously, literally would not be where and who you are today. I can say that about my parents but I'm not sure there is another in this world I can seriously say that about. As my parents had everything to do with my physical and spiritual upbringing, Perry had everything to do with my walk with Jesus for the last 13 years.
Paul finished his personal remarks in his letter to Timothy about keeping the good fight with this and I hope Perry experiences this as well:
"But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." 2 Timothy 4:17-18
Because you ingrained in us that "the best is yet to come," we believe that for you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
With tears and much love,
** I love our church, truly. I am so encouraged and excited for what is to come. I have more confidence in our church now than I did even a week ago. We were built around Jesus, around reaching people far from God and teaching them to follow Jesus step by step and we will continue to pursue that mission! A sign of a GREAT leader is when they are absent, the team still functions at max capacity and carries on the mission. I know that will be true of our church because Perry was that great leader and because awesome leaders are in place across all Newspring campuses! The best is yet to come! I love our church!
**To watch and read the statements from our church leadership and Perry Noble, click here. Please watch if you have time. The announcement is after the first song that is played.