Comeback Sunday

On Sunday, September 12th we celebrated Comeback Sunday. If you weren’t with us in person or online, I encourage you to watch the service here. I think you’ll agree that we have quite a comeback story to tell. 

I wish I had kept a journal over the past three years because I think I could have turned the story of our congregation’s journey into a best-selling book. Better yet, in movie form, it might be a blockbuster hit. 

Which makes me wonder, who’d play me? Don’t answer that!

If our comeback story were a book or movie, it’d be the first in a series with many sequels to come. That’s because I am convinced we’re just getting started and the best is yet to come. In fact, what comes next is what is going to make our comeback story really compelling. 

I’m hesitant to mention college football because I know that’s a topic that can divide any room, but as a comparison I want to share the story of Florida State University quarterback McKenzie Milton, who has a great comeback tale that in some ways mirrors our own. 

McKenzie was a successful quarterback at the University of Central Florida and led his team to an undefeated season in 2017 when he finished 8th in the Heisman race. The winning streak continued the next year (reaching 24 straight victories) but in the final game of the regular season he suffered a devastating knee injury. It involved a dislocated joint, torn ligaments, and significant nerve and arterial damage. 

This injury occurred on November 23, 2018, shortly after our church experienced the crisis event called Hurricane Michael.  Doctors said 50 percent of such cases result in amputation and they performed multiple surgeries to reconstruct the leg.

After McKenzie experienced what we did, his primary orthopedic surgeon told him: “We’ve done all we can and now it’s in God’s hands!” Sounds like how we felt after the hurricane, doesn’t it? We knew our only hope was if the Lord came to our rescue.

The leg was spared and McKenzie went through extensive rehabilitation but about six months later, a serious infection threatened both the limb and his life. More surgeries and more rehab…and miraculously, not only was he able to keep the leg and walk again, he was cleared for football activities in the fall of 2020. He played on the UCF practice squad but never got into game action

With one year of eligibility left, he transferred to FSU and made the team. Note the similarity to our story of relocating our main (now only) campus to our former Fusion campus?

That’s a great comeback story in and of itself, but it didn’t end there. His mother even said she was hoping he’d never get on the field again. But he did and when given his chance (1000+ days after the injury), he completed a 22-yard pass on the first play, then stayed in the game completing his first 5 passes and leading FSU back to tie the game. The team wound up losing in overtime, but that is not the point. The point is he was back in the game! 

While it was wonderful that McKenzie Milton survived a devastating injury, recovered and made it back on the field again, his comeback story is far from over. He has started writing the next chapter and only time will tell how great of a story it ultimately is. 

Our own comeback story is, in the same way, entering a new chapter. It’s been a great comeback so far but what happens from this point forward has the potential to make it much better. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m not satisfied just to suit up and get back on the sidelines. I want to get in the game and make a difference. The celebration of Comeback Sunday served as a milestone in the life of our congregation. It allowed us a time to pause and look back on all that God has done over the past three years.  

But more importantly it’s a time to strap on our helmets and get ready to play!

I don’t know what the future holds but I do know what we’ve experienced over the past three years is going to shape us as we move forward. As I’ve thought about where we are and where we’re headed, this passage of Scripture has come to mind.

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within [us], will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:3-6 NLT)

You’ll notice that the Apostle Paul rejoices about what has happened so far in his shared ministry with the believers in Philippi, but he is also eager to continue on. He’s encouraging his friends and cohorts, just as I’ve tried to encourage you in recent times. As you’re well aware, I don’t come up with much original material but I’ve used a mantra during our hurricane recovery and response to the pandemic. I don’t know where I got it so I’m going to claim it as my own. ☺ It goes like this: God’s got it. God’s got us. We’ve got each other.

As we continue our comeback story, let’s always keep this mantra in mind. I’ll be the first to admit I need to be reminded daily. A few days before Comeback Sunday I was fretting about the service and how it would come together. I’m sure I heard an audible laugh from heaven that day as the Lord said to me, “You’ve got to be kidding, Craig. After all I’ve brought you through. Don’t worry, I’ve got it and I’ve got you!”

Whatever we face we can be confident that God’s grace is more than sufficient. And, on top of that, if we haven’t learned anything else, we’ve learned the value of one another. 

In large part, we didn’t get to choose who’d we be with during our comeback. But God threw us all together here in Lynn Haven and I can’t imagine going through it with anyone else (nor would I want to). Like Paul, I thank God every time I think of you…and I always will. 

We’ve been hurricane buddies, COVID cohorts, and “partners in spreading the Good News about Christ.” If we’re still together after what we’ve been through, I think we’ll stay together. 

I’m glad we’re a church that celebrates milestones and gives thanks to God for all He has done. Now, after the celebration, as Pastor Terry recently said, we need not to waste any time getting “back to work.” Our work for God is too important. 

To borrow from the language of the apostle Paul again, I’m “certain that God, who began the good work within [us], will continue his work until it is finally finished.”  Folks are depending on us to do exactly that. 

In preparation for Comeback Sunday, I watched some video footage from our comeback including our services in the parking lot at the Transmitter campus, congregational updates, etc. Many of these videos have been added into a YouTube playlist if you’d want to watch them as well. 

On one of the first Sundays following the storm, I quoted what is my favorite prayer in the Bible. It’s from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. As we anticipate how the rest of our comeback story is going to unfold, let’s pray it together:

When we think of all this, we fall to our knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. We pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower us with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in our hearts as we trust in him. Our roots will grow down into God’s love and keep us strong. And may we have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May we experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then we will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the [Lynn Haven United Methodist] church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 NLT adapted)

God’s got it. God’s got us. We’ve got each other. Glory to God. Amen.