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First Thoughts

An Important Update on Health and Ministry

Dear First Baptist Family,

I am writing to give you an important update on my health and ministry.

I’ll start with my health.

After surgery number five, there are a lot of reasons to be encouraged. I have not experienced any nerve pain since awakening from surgery, and my spasms have improved every day. These are the best signs available that the surgery was successful. It will take time to determine whether new scar tissue will replace what they removed, but prayer is the only thing we can do about that, and that is the very best thing.

I have been feeling really good for about the last week. I only needed to meet with my surgeon to get my staples and stitches removed, to be taken off antibiotics, and to be cleared to return to normal life. That all happened this morning. My surgeon is very pleased with my progress and has removed all my post-surgery restrictions.

I’m planning on seeing you at church on Wednesday night.

That gets to the ministry update.

For several weeks now, many in our church family have urged me to take an extended period of recovery before returning to full-time ministry. You have expressed two types of concern. The first concern is that five hospitalizations in three years is a bad record and demands more serious rest than I have taken. The second concern has been that my medical challenges have happened during seasons of serious trouble and threat in our church that themselves nearly killed me. It is time, the argument has gone, to take a serious season of rest as an investment in my future ministry at First Baptist.

When those conversations first started, I did not like the sound of it. No physician has ever said that my medical troubles are from coming back to work too quickly after surgery. More than that, I love work, and I love our church. I believe we are doing the most important things in the world. I want to be engaged, and I want to speed up, not slow down.

But then I began to really listen to the people speaking to me. The team of pastors who report to me insist that rest is crucial and that the slowness of summer is a good time to do it. Hundreds of you have reached out to me in messages, emails, cards, visits, and phone calls pleading for a slow return. The team of laymen who hold me accountable unanimously agree with this recommendation. The lay leaders in our church voted unanimously to encourage me to focus on rest until August.

When everyone in your life has clarity about something, it’s a bad idea to refuse to listen. I don’t want to be that kind of man. As I have listened to you and prayed about this, my heart has changed. I agree with you and am going to follow your advice.

So, until August 1, I am going to focus on rest, connecting with my family, and moving slowly. I will avoid preaching and my regular times in the office. I will still, obviously, be at our church. You will see me on Sundays and Wednesdays. I will stay informed about what is going on in the life of our congregation and will have occasional meetings. But that will not be the focus. The focus will be on using this as a season to fully rest and recover.

The other night some of our deacons came to my house, sat with me and Lauren, and tenderly and with care asked us to consider this season of rest and recovery. I responded that it was one of the most generous gifts I’ve ever been given and that I would receive it as an investment in the future of our ministry together for Jesus.

That is how I am thinking about this. I am excited about all the good things the Lord is doing in our congregation: about the new growth happening every month, about the incredible outreach opportunities we have, about the growth in Jesus that we are all experiencing.

The Lord is doing mighty and wonderful things. It only remains for us to discover what they are! I can’t wait to discover those things with you.

I love you, am grateful for you, and can’t wait to see you at church.

Blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Heath.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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