September 27, 2012
Last week was an emotional week. Gary & Elizabeth Inrig have been spiritual parents to me for the past 17 years, through their teaching, shepherding and example of what it looks like to love and follow the Lord Jesus whole heartedly, and to love his Church. Their announcement that they are stepping down from the leadership of Trinity Church next June gives me conflicting emotion. On the one hand, it is natural to pass the baton of leadership to the next generation. However natural it may be, that transition will not be easy for them or for me. I will be sad to not have them in that role in the same way. But I am thankful for the blessing that they have been and will continue to be. They have deposited in me an eternal investment that will continue to yield returns until that great day when God’s work is completed in me. “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:13–14 NIV) With the help of the Holy Spirit I will guard what I have heard from them, their pattern of sound teaching and their faith and love in Christ Jesus. That is a priceless treasure!
Gary’s main investment in my life has been the faithful, consistent, and rigorous teaching of God’s Word. If I look back to my love for and knowledge of the Lord 17 years ago compared to now, I can see tremendous growth. Much of that growth comes from seeking God in the worship services at Trinity and hearing His voice through his Word, teaching, correcting, rebuking and training me in righteousness. Gary’s gift of teaching, and his faithful exercise of it has been a major way that God has spoken to me, moving me to a greater love for God and for people, a joyful giving of myself completely to following all of God’s ways, guiding me toward being a better husband & father, opening my heart toward adopting two of our children, moving me with compassion, giving confidence to speak the life-giving words of the gospel to the lost, opening my arms & heart to reach out toward the poor and invite them in, strengthening my faith, and helping me become a better worshiper as a result of having a bigger view of our great God. Gary has been God’s servant to me in accomplishing his purposes in my life. I used to think of the big moments of my spiritual life being mountaintop experiences at camp or retreats where God really got my attention. Certainly these are important milestones. However, now I see that it is the consistent week-to-week, truth-giving exhortation and instruction that has had the long term & lasting impact on my life. Thank you Gary!
Gary’s gift of leadership saw hints of a capable worship leader in me and took a risk, giving me a shot at it in 2002. He entrusted the worship services to a high school math teacher without pastoring credentials and then empowered me to lead. That invitation was something I could not turn down. Our partnership in ministry has been a great joy over the past 10 years. Very few worship leaders get to craft a worship service around such great biblical teaching! Few worship leaders get to lead a congregation whose faith and expression of worship has been thus shaped. God moved me into full-time pastoral ministry and has given me a model of trust-based, non-micromanaged leadership through Gary Inrig. I am eternally grateful!
Elizabeth has also shaped my faith and love for God and his Word. Early on in our marriage, my wife Julie insisted that I attend a Walk-Through-The-Bible class taught by her. (How wonderful that she is teaching it again this fall!) I resisted, saying that I had taken all those classes at Biola. But finally I gave in to Julie’s wishes and went to the class. Boy was I humbled at what I didn’t know! More than that, I realized that it wasn’t knowledge of God’s Word that was the central thing to Elizabeth. It was knowledge of the God who spoke it. I was touched and inspired by her passion and love for the Lord, and the way she could communicate the Big Picture of how it all fits together. The Old Testament and New Testament are one story, God’s story with Christ being present from Genesis through Revelation. I hadn’t made sense of the main storyline of the Bible before. That class began my journey of studying the Word on my own, not just for knowledge, but for the joy of relationship – to know and love God more. Thank you Elizabeth!
I’m grateful for my spiritual parents and forever indebted because of their investment into my life. I’m committed to making these last 9 months of our partnership in ministry at Trinity together the best yet. Thank you Lord for Gary and Elizabeth!
Bill, thank you for this tribute to Gary and Elizabeth which articulates my feelings as well. God has used Gary and Elizabeth to reprogram my worldview so I am grounded in biblical reality and truth. They have modeled ministry and faithful shepherding, whether they were struggling through Gary’s cancer treatments or family demands that took emotional tolls on them. Elizabeth has taught us women how to trust God because His word cannot fail, and at the same time she teaches the Bible she transparently submits her own life to God’s word. She has shown hundreds of us women how to be faithful to the Lord Jesus by allowing His word to strengthen us when life seems more demanding than rewarding—and to find that He really is our great reward.
I thank God for bringing us to Trinity Church and for knowing from the foundation of the world that He would use Gary and Elizabeth to teach us, grow us, and spark a deep love for the Lord Jesus and for His word in our hearts. They are two of God’s great gifts to His church in this generation, and I am overwhelmed that He placed us under their shepherding. We will always praise Him for the gift of Gary and Elizabeth.
I would like to say I have been preparing myself for this now for about a year. When Gary sat on stage with all the Elders praying for him, I felt he would recover and be with us for a while, but I also knew in my heart the time was coming when he would retire. Maybe that is why Sunday didn’t shock me so much. Please do not misunderstand me, I sat in first service wiping tears from my eyes, but I was not surprised.
Gary, I am not sure what I could say to you that would be sufficient. Somehow Thank You just does not get the job done. You were the person who inspired me to learn what the Bible had to say to me. Having come from a different church with a different set of manmade rules, I felt as though I did not deserve God’s love or forgiveness. But I listened to you every Sunday, and with time you convinced me, I was wrong, I could receive forgiveness, all I had to do was ask.
That was 17 years ago, and I thank God everyday for bringing you into my life, and my husband for bringing me to Trinity. How do you say thank you to the man who taught you about a Savior who loves us no matter what? How do you thank a man for bringing you to the point in your life where you are not only ready to ask for forgiveness, but he also teaches you the hardest lesson, To Forgive Yourself. Thank you just does not relate to you the love, respect and admiration I hold in my heart for you and Elizabeth.
It makes my heart glad to know I am not the only one. Whenever we talk about you and Elizabeth, faces always light up. Someone always has a little story to tell about how something one of you has said or done which changed their lives. That is the gift you have given to so many of us, and why even now I sit with tears wanting to fall. Still I also understand after reading you letter, you deserve this time too. It is selfish of us to want to keep you all to ourselves, and I fully admit to it. However, I will pray for the elders to find someone to come and fill the pulpit on Sundays. To be the Senior Pastor to lead us onward. I hope you understand though, for many of us, NO ONE will ever take your place, as that simply is not possible. No one can take the place of the person you lead you to the Eternal Light of God. There are many of us that sit before you on Sundays, and we know that we live by the Grace of God’s love because you taught us what that was.
Which brings me to my final point? Your greatest gift as far as I have always been concerned. You have always been a teacher to me, instead of a preacher. You have stood before us, and admitted your own failings, which makes it much easier to admit our own, to ourselves and to God. I know you will continue to touch lives as you go forward, no matter where God takes you in this world. I hope you will enjoy every moment that God gives you, and that every day is filled with the light and happiness of all the lives you have touched at Trinity.